Discovery Institute: How They Spent Kitzmas

AS they become more desperate, we’re finding it increasingly difficult to report on the ravings posted at the blog of the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). Consider this specimen: Thomas Nagel on Dover.

It was posted on 20 December, the day when rational people were celebrating Kitzmas, our annual festival in honor of the decision on 20 December 2005 by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. To commemorate that day we posted Four Years Since Dover — Merry Kitzmas!

On that glorious day of merriment, the Discoveroids were still raging about the Dover decision. Here are some excerpts from their blog entry marking that occasion, with bold added by us. Note how it begins:

Editor’s Note: Dec. 20 was the 4th anniversary of the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision banning the mention of intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania classrooms.

Yeah, “banning the mention” of ID. Right. To refresh your memory about this, we posted some relevant excerpts from the Dover decision here: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science? Judge Jones said this:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID [intelligent design] arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science.

ID fails on three different levels? Yes. Jones’ opinion continues:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

There’s a lot more in the opinion, but that’s enough to understand why Jones ruled against teaching ID (not “banning the mention” of it). He ended that part of his opinion by saying this:

To conclude and reiterate, we express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation. However, we commend to the attention of those who are inclined to superficially consider ID to be a true “scientific” alternative to evolution without a true understanding of the concept the foregoing detailed analysis. It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.

It’s been a bitter experience for the Discoveroids. They hate every word of the Dover opinion, and they’ve had no success pushing their peculiar version of creationism since then — unless you consider last year’s legislative atrocity in Louisiana to be “success.” So how do the Discoveroids console themselves after Dover? That question brings us to back to the Discoveroid article they posted on Kitzmas day. It says:

Prominent philosopher and legal scholar Thomas Nagel, an atheist, endorses an argument that is obvious: if the argument against intelligent design in biology (Darwinism) counts as a scientific argument, then the argument for intelligent design in biology must count as a scientific argument, because the two differing conclusions are just the negative and affirmative denouement of the same argument. That is of course not to say that one or the other argument about design is true; it is merely to say the obvious: that for either to be true, the question of intelligent design must be a scientific question.

Thomas Nagel has an impressive biography. His article to which the Discoveroids link is a 19-page pdf file. We haven’t studied it sufficiently to offer a meaningful commentary, but we’re not in the least impressed with his grasp of the issues.

Let’s consider what the Discoveroid blog says about Nagel’s paper. We repeat its essence:

[I]f the argument against intelligent design in biology (Darwinism) counts as a scientific argument, then the argument for intelligent design in biology must count as a scientific argument, because the two differing conclusions are just the negative and affirmative denouement of the same argument.

As we shall see, that’s flat-out wrong regarding ID, but as a general proposition, Nagel’s Law isn’t completely batty. Let’s consider a few applications:

If the geological arguments about the Moon’s composition are scientific, including a claim against the Moon’s being made of green cheese, then the argument for a green cheese Moon is also a scientific argument.

Nagel’s Law actually works here. The green cheese claim — although crazy — is something that can be tested, so in that sense it’s a scientific claim. It would, of course, be insane to teach the green cheese “theory” in science class and urge the children to decide what they prefer to believe, but let’s not worry about that. The green cheese Moon is, in a limited sense, a scientific issue (which was decisively resolved long ago).

Okay, now let’s try Nagel’s Law on another pair of issues, this time the arguments for and against ID. Here’s the pro-ID argument:

An unknown intelligence (whether it’s a solitary creature or a vast swarm is never addressed), with utterly unknown characteristics (mortal or immortal, sexual or asexual, plant or animal, physical or spiritual), whose home base is unknown, and whose ultimate origin is a mystery (evolved, created, or eternal), arrived on earth somehow (in a flying saucer, perhaps, or maybe on angel wings), at some unspecified time (or several times), and then in some unspecified way (technological or magical), for unspecified reasons (boredom, or maybe cosmic fulfillment), did something (or maybe several things) to influence the genetic characteristics of some (but maybe not all) of the creatures on earth.

There you go. Is that a scientific argument? No, not in the sense that the green cheese Moon is. The overall ID claim can’t be tested. If ID advocates are foolish enough to actually make limited and testable claims, such as: “There’s no way blood clotting could have possibly evolved,” that can be tested merely be pointing out a possible evolutionary pathway. So a limited claim of ID could qualify as a scientific issue; but reality has been unkind to ID advocates, which is why they don’t make many such claims. The whole big magic designer issue, however, is no more scientific than Santa Claus.

But Nagel thinks the pro-ID argument is scientific, and he seems to think this solely because ID denies evolution — and evolution is scientific. Thus he’s a hero to the Discoveroids. Too bad they didn’t think to use him as a witness at the Dover trial. But even if they did, it wouldn’t have been too much trouble to make him look silly.

Anyway, that’s how the Discoveroids spent their Kitzmas. It must have been thrilling for them.

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3 responses to “Discovery Institute: How They Spent Kitzmas

  1. ID fails on three different levels?

    Hey, go big or go home! 🙂

  2. Judge Jones ruled

    It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.

    –which is a deeply commendable conclusion. But I would further note that what Judge Jones characterises as an “interesting” theological argument is also a very simplistic one that is in fact rejected by a very large number of adherents of both Christian and other faiths.

  3. Like a kid with a matchbook, these clowns just can’t stay away from the word “Darwinism.” By inserting that word – for which IDers are on record as constantly defining to suit the argument – in the phrase “if the argument against intelligent design in biology (Darwinism) counts as a scientific argument” they turn it into meaningless word salad.

    Evolutionary biology (if that’s what they mean by “Darwinism”) is not the same as “the argument against intelligent design in biology.” The latter is just as unsuitable for science class as arguments for ID, and to my knowledge, no “Darwinist” demands it.

    The irony is that “classic” creationism (YEC and OEC versions) have “green cheese” arguments. But even in the pre-ID days of “scientific” creationism, proponents refused to teach and critically analyze their “green cheese” claims on their own merits. Even then, they just could not keep their hands off the “matchbook.”