August 8, 2005


God vs. Darwin: no contest (Cathy Young, August 8, 2005, Boston Globe)

THE GOD VS. Darwin debate went to the White House last week when President Bush weighed in, stating in a roundtable interview with reporters that ''intelligent design" should be taught along with evolution in public schools. It's a move that has undoubtedly pleased the president's conservative religious base. However, it has also caused much unhappiness among those conservatives who want the Republican Party to be something other than a political arm of the religious right, including such strong Bush supporters as columnist Charles Krauthammer and University of Tennessee law professor/blogger Glenn Reynolds.

Some arguments made by proponents of teaching ''intelligent design" have superficial popular appeal, which may explain why the idea polls well. One such argument is intellectual diversity: Those who believe that only evolution should be taught in science classrooms are supposedly trying to stifle opposing viewpoints. A related claim is that a left-leaning, elitist scientific establishment, backed by aggressively secularist groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, is using taxpayer dollars to promote its own agenda in the classroom and teach children to despise their parents' religious beliefs.

Now, it's quite true that mainstream scientists vehemently reject the idea of allowing evolution and ''intelligent design" to compete freely in the nation's public school classrooms. The reason is that ''intelligent design" is not science. A scientific hypothesis must be testable -- meaning that, if it is wrong, there should be a way to disprove it.

It's entirely typical that Ms Young has the question backwards. The problem is not that I.D. isn't a science, by her own definition, but that Darwinism isn't, Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought (Ernst Mayr, September 23, 1999, Crafoord Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science)
Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology. Four of his contributions to evolutionary biology are especially important, as they held considerable sway beyond that discipline. The first is the non-constancy of species, or the modern conception of evolution itself. The second is the notion of branching evolution, implying the common descent of all species of living things on earth from a single unique origin. Up until 1859, all evolutionary proposals, such as that of naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, instead endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection that had been in vogue since Aristotle's concept of Scala Naturae, the chain of being. Darwin further noted that evolution must be gradual, with no major breaks or discontinuities. Finally, he reasoned that the mechanism of evolution was natural selection.

These four insights served as the foundation for Darwin's founding of a new branch of the philosophy of science, a philosophy of biology. Despite the passing of a century before this new branch of philosophy fully developed, its eventual form is based on Darwinian concepts. For example, Darwin introduced historicity into science. Evolutionary biology, in contrast with physics and chemistry, is a historical science - the evolutionist attempts to explain events and processes that have already taken place. Laws and experiments are inappropriate techniques for the explication of such events and processes. Instead one constructs a historical narrative, consisting of a tentative reconstruction of the particular scenario that led to the events one is trying to explain.

Whichever classroom you choose to teach the philosophy of Darwinism should certainly present the more popular philosophies of Creationism and Intelligent Design.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 8, 2005 4:04 PM

The part about Instapundit is telling. The press is desperate to find some Republicans who are dissatisfied with Dubya, even if they're not Republicans at all. Glenn Reynolds isn't a Republican, nor a strong Bush supporter. He's a small-l libertarian and a former card-carrying Democrat. He just didn't go off the deep end on national security like the rest of his political family. That made him a Bush voter in '04, but he almost certainly voted Gore in '00 and there's little doubt that he'll vote Hillary in '08.

Posted by: Peter at August 8, 2005 4:50 PM

Inherit The Dustbin.

Posted by: Luciferous at August 8, 2005 6:06 PM

I wouldn't be that fast putting Reynolds in Hillary's corner.

Posted by: erp at August 8, 2005 8:20 PM

Wyatt's right. It depends on the alternative. Insty is a thoughtful centrist, very big on the right to bear arms, very big on personal responsibility. He is also "socially liberal".

Posted by: ghostcat at August 8, 2005 10:15 PM

Interesting that Bush did not say directly that ID should be taught. What he said was that it was up to the individual school districts whether to teach ID. The reporter tried to force him to come out in favor of ID directly by asking the same question 4 times but Bush told him that he would not answer that and that it was up to the individual school districts. Interesting that the MSM is reporting it this way. Sort of like the reporting on the WMD. Bush said Saddam was trying to build up his WMD and the MSM reported it as if Bush said we were attacking because Saddam had WMD. Small difference but a telling one and this story is the same. Reporter is reading it the way she wants to read it rather than the way Bush stated it.

Posted by: dick at August 9, 2005 1:27 AM

Not just Reynolds but practically the entire libertarian blogosphere came down on Bush.

Those guys are into technology and they understand that a nation whose higher education system looks like Liberty U. is going to the back of the bus.

Bush's response was pretty good, for him. He did say the question was not federal -- Reynolds gave him marks for that -- and he then dribbled out some platitudes that didn't amount to much.

I hope he's got more important things to occupy his time than ID. The idea that Bush has spent a few quiet evenings trying to get something out of Dembski's confused diatribe brings a smile.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 9, 2005 3:06 AM

Nobody with any sense would want to rock the boat. The US presumably wants to stay at the forefront of science and technology, for military reasons if nothing else. Those exoskeleton-clad super-soldiers of the future aren't going invent themselves, after all.

There's plenty of outlets for those who want to say "God made all of this", and meanwhile, those who want to do proper science, can.

So why change a system that more or less works? Even Bush isn't that stupid.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 5:10 AM

Oh, for cryin' out loud, we're talking about high school education, not PH.D programmes at MIT. If you want to be paranoid and see creeping theocrats trying to reverse the Enlightenment under the bed, fine, but I'm still waiting for some of the calmer darwinists here to acknowledge that teaching competing theories of the origin of life and the universe is an education in itself that will pay both religious and scientific dividends and produce keener minds. And what is wrong with teaching criticisms of the theories modern science is based upon, especially at a philosophical level? Even in science classes. (Cue horrified gasps!)

It's getting harder to see this debate as other than a rear-guard power trip by the scientific community. The hard science of questions like natural selection, global warming, astro-physics, etc. is inaccessible to all but a small number of highly-trained professionals immersed in extremely complex math, statistics and computer programming. The best that educated generalists can do is study the theory, but even a lifetime of that won't qualify you to do peer reviews or pronounce on the latest research. I have to smile at those NYT editorials that pontificate how evolution is the bedrock of modern biology--they can't possibly be saying anything more than "We believe whatever scientists (or at least the ones we like) tell us."

Whatever happened to the ideal of the ordinary free citizen educated to be sceptical of whatever elites tell him and to trust his own judgment? Brit, are you saying that in order to produce cutting edge science, a society has to defer to whatever scientific consensus is the flavour of the month? (Actually, Germany did that--great precedent). And just exactly how much modern scientific and technological skill is dependent upon an unquestionning acceptance of natural selection? Puleeze

Posted by: Peter B at August 9, 2005 7:12 AM

Other than heuristically, ID is as uninteresting as Darwinism. But I would be interested in Brit's explanation of how Darwinism will lead us to exoskeleton-clad super-soldiers of the future, which at this point is mostly an engineering problem.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 9, 2005 8:08 AM

I saying if you want to produce scientists, don't screw up science eduction.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 8:08 AM


Good advice. We've really got to worry more about those cancer researchers and NASA engineers messing up their sums because they were distracted by unsettling memories of the Grade 9 lecture on ID.

Posted by: Peter B at August 9, 2005 8:18 AM


It's because we want to be at the forefront that we should avoid a philosophy that's both misleading as science and evil as an ethic.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 8:29 AM


Science doesn't require Darwinism, not even Biology. It does require evolution.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 8:30 AM


PhD programs too. Anecdotal information is pretty useless, but both the Other Brother, with a PhD in Biology, and The Wife, who's an MD, are skeptics. Being dubious affected them not one little bit.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 8:34 AM


But your argument rests on the mistaken assumption that ID has some merit as a competing scientific theory to evolution.


Given that US kids already hear all about how God made the world and everything in it at Sunday school, from their parents, from the President and all the rest, trying to crowbar it into biology class too seems a bit like overkill.

Having said that, I couldn't really give two hoots what junk Americans teach in their classrooms. You pays yer school fees, you takes yer choice, I suppose.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 8:42 AM


Libertarians generally hate Judeo-Christian morality.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 8:45 AM


Yes, but why would American parents want to pay to have your faith taught to their kids instead of their own? Darwinism belongs in Darwinist Sunday School, or your neat new Darwin Day, not a science class.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 8:47 AM

Probably they wouldn't. Like I said, I couldn't care less.

I'm just pointing out the obvious.

The ID movement is, if you actually scrutinise it objectively, a small bunch of noisy US-based Christians who don't like a particular bit of what science tells them.

You want to let crackpots interfere in your education process, knock yourself out.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 8:55 AM

Because there are absolutely no crackpots involved in the British education system, in any way, shape or form.

Posted by: David Cohen at August 9, 2005 9:10 AM

I never said that. Crackpottery is virtually a vocational requirement at Eton, I believe.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 9:21 AM


Ah, yet another dark prediction of imminent American decline. I've been collecting them all my life. Got about a dozen now. Let's see: Vietnam, racial turmoil, Club of Rome....

Posted by: Peter B at August 9, 2005 9:41 AM

Hey, that's what conservatives do best. The world is always going to hell in a handbasket for one reason or another.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 9:51 AM


America isn't--we rejected Darwinism. You guys are.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 10:57 AM

Yes of course, sorry. The world is going to hell in a handbasket...except for America. Goes without saying.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 11:01 AM

The Developed World, except for America. The developing world has a chance to avoid your mistakes.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 11:13 AM

I blame it on recular sodern mationalism.

Posted by: Brit at August 9, 2005 11:18 AM


And you're right. But correctly assigning blame doesn't fix the problem.

Posted by: oj at August 9, 2005 11:24 AM

"But your argument rests on the mistaken assumption that ID has some merit as a competing scientific theory to evolution."

Replace ID with Darwinism in that sentence and it does not change. Neither theory is scientific.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at August 10, 2005 2:22 AM

There's a difference between being trained and being a trainer.

The proof of the pudding is, where do the trainers come from? Not from the antidarwinian program, which doesn't even exist.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at August 11, 2005 11:18 PM


The Church doesn't hire Satanists either. Of course indoictrination to the cult of Darwinism requires Darwinists. Biology though doesn't darwinism, which is why so few of even biologists believe in it.

Posted by: oj at August 11, 2005 11:25 PM