Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Constitutionality of Intelligent Design By way of our friends at the creationist web site Access Research Network comes this review of a new book by Francis Beckwith entitled Law, Darwinism & Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design. In it, Beckwith argues for both the constitutionality, and the wisdom, of teaching intelligent design theory (ID) along side evolution in high school science classes.

The review is highly favorable, which is distressing given its appearance in the prestigious Harvard Law Review. It is not clear who wrote the review, the byline reading "The Harvard Law Review Association." Whoever wrote it has uncritically accepted the terms of the debate as set by ID proponents.

Thus, the review consistently refers to "naturalistic evolution", as if other prominent scientific theories are not also naturalistic. It refers to methodological naturalism as "...the philosophical view that scientific analysis must be restricted solely to undirected natural processes," when in reality it is nothing of the kind. Methodological naturalism is nothing more than a description of how science is currently practiced. Supernatural theories are unwelcome in science not because of any bias against them, but because they have never proven to be useful in day-to-day scientific work. If ID people could show how their theories would lead to progress on a single open scientific problem, their work would be embraced very quickly. The reviewer also accepts uncritically the idea that ID is based on solid scientific evidence, as opposed to religion, when in reality their scientifc claims have been overwhelmingly rejected by experts in the relevant fields.

In fact, the reviewer shows no interest at all in science as a problem-solving enterprise, preferring to emphasize instead the use of science to indoctrinate unsuspecting high school students. Teaching evolution, he argues, parroting Beckwith and countless other ID proponents, is nothing more than a way of indoctrinating students in the ways of atheism. That evolution is generally presented as a very small unit within a year-long biology class, and that no public school teacher who cares about his job would dare suggest that evolution has any connection with atheism is ignored.

Even more distressing is the snide tone of the review. For example, in one of his footnotes the reviewer writes

"Some of naturalistic evolution's proponents are adept at employing a "bait and switch" strategy when pressed about the philosophy of methodological naturalism underlying their scientific paradigm. Although promoting naturalistic evolution with all its philosophical trappings, they nimbly revert to "microevolution" when convenient. This most benign definition of evolution - observed natural selection - is empirically verifiable, universally accepted, and not what the ID movement or even creationists find objectionable. "

This is so silly it hardly merits response. Do note, however, the snide tone of the remark, and the imputation of dishonesty and skullduggery among scientists.

The rhetoric of the review so closely mirrors the style and rhetoric of ID writing that it is difficult to believe the review was written by a disinterested party. Beckwith is currently at Princeton University, and it would not surprise me if he has connections among the Harvard Law Review's editors. However this review came about, it is depressing that the HLR would allow itself to be used in this way.

As for the constitutionality of teaching ID, I'll leave that to the legal scholars. As more than one person has pointed out, the constitution prohibits teaching religion, but it does not prohibit teaching bad science.

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