John Haught: Witness in the Dover Case

AT the website of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro we read: Haught to Speak on Faith, Evolution Oct. 7. It says:

Dr. John F. Haught, senior fellow of science and religion at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, will give a free public lecture – Evolution and Faith: What is at Stake? – 7:30-9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Haught has called Darwin’s thought a “gift to theology.”

Okay, that’s very nice, but why should you care? It’s because, dear reader, Dr. Haught is an important voice in The Controversy between evolution and creationism. Those of you familiar with the decision by Judge John E. Jones III in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District may recall that Dr. Haught was one of the experts who testified for the winning side.

So because Dr. Haught’s name has popped up today, and because we haven’t written before about his role in the Dover case, we thought we’d visit the full 140-page opinion (pdf file) and pluck out some excerpts the court wrote about Dr. Haught.

To make this readable, we’ll leave out the court’s references to the trial transcript, and we’ll also omit citations to earlier decisions upon which the opinion relies. Bear in mind that where the court mentions the “plaintiff” side of the case it’s a reference to the side that objected to intelligent design (ID) in school; and references to “the defense” means the Dover school board that tried to teach ID. The bold font was added by us:

[Page 24.] We initially note that John Haught, a theologian who testified as an expert witness for Plaintiffs and who has written extensively on the subject of evolution and religion, succinctly explained to the Court that the argument for ID is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God. He traced this argument back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer. Dr. Haught testified that Aquinas was explicit that this intelligent designer “everyone understands to be God.” The syllogism described by Dr. Haught is essentially the same argument for ID as presented by defense expert witnesses Professors Behe and Minnich who employ the phrase “purposeful arrangement of parts.”

Dr. Haught testified that this argument for the existence of God was advanced early in the 19th century by Reverend Paley and defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich admitted that their argument for ID based on the “purposeful arrangement of parts” is the same one that Paley made for design. The only apparent difference between the argument made by Paley and the argument for ID, as expressed by defense expert witnesses Behe and Minnich, is that ID’s “official position” does not acknowledge that the designer is God. However, as Dr. Haught testified, anyone familiar with Western religious thought would immediately make the association that the tactically unnamed designer is God, as the description of the designer in Of Pandas and People (hereinafter “Pandas”) is a “master intellect,” strongly suggesting a supernatural deity as opposed to any intelligent actor known to exist in the natural world. Moreover, it is notable that both Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God and Professor Minnich testified that he understands many leading advocates of ID to believe the designer to be God.

We hate to interrupt the opinion’s narrative, but Dr. Haught isn’t significantly mentioned again until page 30:

Further support for the proposition that ID requires supernatural creation is found in the book Pandas, to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are directed. Pandas indicates that there are two kinds of causes, natural and intelligent, which demonstrate that intelligent causes are beyond nature. Professor Haught, who as noted was the only theologian to testify in this case, explained that in Western intellectual tradition, non-natural causes occupy a space reserved for ultimate religious explanations. Robert Pennock, Plaintiffs’ expert in the philosophy of science, concurred with Professor Haught and concluded that because its basic proposition is that the features of the natural world are produced by a transcendent, immaterial, non-natural being, ID is a religious proposition regardless of whether that religious proposition is given a recognized religious label. It is notable that not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition. Accordingly, we find that ID’s religious nature would be further evident to our objective observer because it directly involves a supernatural designer.

We have to skip now to page 64:

Expert testimony [Haught and others are cited throughout this paragraph] reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify.

As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter “NAS”) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.”

[Here the court refers only to the testimony of Kenneth Miller and Robert Pennock, but we’re including it because it fits.] This rigorous attachment to “natural” explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention. We are in agreement with Plaintiffs’ lead expert Dr. Miller, that from a practical perspective, attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a “science stopper.” As Dr. Miller explained, once you attribute a cause to an untestable supernatural force, a proposition that cannot be disproven, there is no reason to continue seeking natural explanations as we have our answer.

Dr. Haught isn’t mentioned after that, so we’ll wrap this up by giving you a few excerpts from Judge Jones’ opinion near the end, starting at page 133:

To briefly reiterate, we first note that since ID is not science, the conclusion is inescapable that the only real effect of the ID Policy is the advancement of religion. …

The effect of Defendants’ actions in adopting the curriculum change was to impose a religious view of biological origins into the biology course, in violation of the Establishment Clause.


The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.


The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

If you haven’t yet read the Dover decision, we recommend that you do so. It’s well-crafted, and if you skip over the technical legal stuff and focus on the court’s summary of arguments made by the parties, you’ll agree that it’s not only a superb legal decision, it’s also a splendid work of prose.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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9 responses to “John Haught: Witness in the Dover Case

  1. 1. Ugly Newton? Noooooooo!!!!!!!

    2. My favorite part about this case is that it was not judged by a liberal, but by a Bush-appointed Republican, so the creotards can’t even whine about that.

  2. LRA wrote: “My favorite part about this case is that it was not judged by a liberal, but by a Bush-appointed Republican, so the creotards can’t even whine about that.”

    And a Christian to boot. So all they have left to fool the rubes is to pretend that he’s an “activist” judge who “plagiarized” his decision.

  3. For all the creationist whining — and Casey Luskin continues to re-argue the case — it’s important to note that since Dover, not a single school board has adopted a policy of teaching ID. Some — in their cosmic stupidity — have considered it, but in the end they’ve all abandoned the idea.

  4. “Breathtaking inanity”….

    ….. the perfect epitaph on the gravestone of Creationism.

  5. LRA noted, re: the Dover Case:

    the creotards can’t even whine about that.

    But they do, my dear. Never underestimate the capacity of a Cretard to whine and whimper that those big mean scientists won’t play with them–it is infinite.

  6. You can read John Haught’s trial testimony in full here. His is on Day 5.

  7. It’s nice to have a theologically sound person to testify (with credentials) to balance out the anti-creationist case, but this particular man is probably not an expert for science, but an expert for Christianity.

    Still, the Creationists, will say “He’s not a Christian”. I’ve been told to my face by a very prim old lady that Pope John Paul was not a Christian. Sigh.

  8. The Gadfly says: “It’s nice to have a theologically sound person to testify …”

    And it’s a good reason not to follow the Dawkins-PZ Myers scorched-earth strategy of assaulting religion in all its forms. If the plaintiffs’ witnesses had all been strident atheists, the effect on Judge Jones might have been different.