Monday, October 31, 2005

Rolling Stone on the Dover Trial

From Rolling Stone comes this snarky take, by Matt Taibbi, on the Dover trial. The article is well worth reading, but I take issue with certain things as well.

Muise was part of the legal team donated to the defense by a group bearing the impressively pretentious name of the Thomas More Law Center, a sort of Christian version of the ACLU. The group considers itself the vanguard of the anti-Darwinist movement -- its understated slogan is “The Sword and Shield of People of Faith.”

The lawyer had come to Harrisburg with these fellow knights-errant of the anti-evolution movement to defend one of the very stupidest concepts ever to get a hearing in an American courtroom: an alternative to evolution called Intelligent Design.

The theory, called “ID” for short, posits that life on earth was simply too complex to be explained by the random and undirected natural processes described in Darwin's theories. The chief innovation of ID was that it did not call God by the name “God” but instead referred vaguely to an “intelligent designer.”

The essence of its scientific claims was that biology was just too intense, dude, to be an accident. A local columnist mocked the theory as resembling a teenage stoner looking at the back of his hand and being too amazed to deal.

Well, it doesn't get much better than that.

But I didn't care for this part:

But Muise wasn't here to win. He was here to make a point, and he made it when he started asking Alters about statements made by certain prominent scientists.

“Dr. Alters,” he said, “were you aware that Professor Steven Weinberg once said that 'I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive to religious belief, and I'm all for that!'”

“An unfortunate remark,” said Alters, shaking his head and squirming. The look on his face said, “Can we move on?”

But Muise didn't: He rattled off more quotes from prominent scientists, including one from Gould (“Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us”) -- who, Muise noted with obvious pleasure, had once written a foreword to one of Alters' books. Alters shrugged it off, calmly sticking to his contention that evolution was not an indictment of religion.

As Alters gave his denials, Muise turned to the gallery and, for the first time that afternoon, evinced a small smile. That smile spoke volumes. It said, “At least my clients know when they're full of shit. But these eggheads . . .”

Muise had a point. His defendants and their ID theory had come under attack for an obvious reason: Just because you say in a court of law that you're not creationists doesn't make it true.

Now Muise got to say the same thing to those superior-sounding intellectuals who flew into God's country and insisted, under oath, that they weren't enemies of religion. You can yell it at us till you're blue in the face, the lawyer seemed to be saying, but we who really believe know better.

There's rather a lot wrong with that excerpt. First, Muise's clients do not know they are full of shit. They think they are wise and learned and well-informed.

More importantly, it is certainly true that some people draw anti-theistic conclusions from science. I am one of those people. But it is not evolution in particular that leads to atheism. It is a willingness to accept science as a route to reliable knowledge that does that. Science does not make it logically impossible that God exists, but it certainly makes Him seem superfluous.

But it is equally true that a great many people do not agree with me on that point. There are rather a lot of people who find their faith strengthened by their understanding of modern science. Two such people are Ken Miller and John Haught, both of whom testified at the Dover trial. For some reason Taibbi didn't mention them.

Anyway, go read the whole thing. I think there are places where Taibbi is more interested in being clever than being right, but he has a lot of interesting things to say as well.


At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually (at least as it seems to me) the problem with the article (and the trial itself) having an issue with science being anti-religion is that it's not even slightly relevant to the suit. The issue of the suit isn't whether or not science is trying to destroy religion. So who cares if some scientists say they want to destroy religion?

Does the fact that some scientists are anti-religion somehow magically make ID a science?

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taibbi was in a free rag called the NY Press. He was witty and insightfull.

so they got rid of him.

only thing in the paper worth more than Taibbi was "Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles"

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and the got rid of that last week.

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My main reason for doubting religion is the simple fact that faithful people all over the world believe such different and contradictory things. This makes it really difficult to accept the idea that the religion I was raised in (Catholicism) has any sort of monopoly on the truth.

On the other hand, I have been fascinated by evolution from an early age and never had any problem with the notion that God in Catholic belief would have set this amazing process into motion rather than landscaping the planet like some sterile office park. In Catholic school, nobody questioned that idea or called it controversial.

So I would say that the critical thinking one applies to science may contribute to atheistic tendencies, but evolution by itself isn't a show-stopper. To my view, the show-stopper is just the modern, connected world in which you realize that people don't all have the same language, tradition, and faith of your fellow villagers. You can accept some kind universalism in which it is all valid (which seems untenable, though maybe OK if you see it as analogous to language) or else you have to doubt that any of it makes much sense.

I don't really think that anyone who lacks faith intuitively is going to come around by virtue of bacteria having little propellers on their butts. So aside from it's use as a legal ploy, ID strikes me as a dead end on grounds of both science and faith.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd also point out that the ACLU is orders of magnitude more competent than the TMLC, and obviously doesn't have a religious agenda. And that Darwininan processes aren't random. I do think, however, that at least some of the TMLC's clients know they're full of shit. Buckingham clearly does, and so does Behe (who is a client by proxy).

Ginger Yellow

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is only one scientifically accurate answer to the question of whether or not there is a god: No data.


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