Saturday, December 31, 2005

Steve Fuller on the Dover Judgement

I promised to write a report on the Dover court case.... I am still working on it. Mean time Steve Fuller has been busy writing.

He wrote this piece in the Times Education Supplement: Schools for the Enlightenment or epiphany? and then sent me this article for the Blog:

If you follow US court cases over what can be taught in high schools, you will be treated to discourses of the sublime and the ridiculous in disturbingly equal measures. In this respect, the Kitzmiller case, the first to test the teaching of ID, is par for the course. The local school board was, by all accounts, fractious and its members not entirely forthcoming in their motives or actions. On those grounds alone, the presiding judge had good grounds for ruling against the defendants.

The larger and more interesting question was whether he would comment further on the fitness of ID for high school science classes. This was my reason for getting involved in the case, and the defence lawyers, to their credit, kept these two issues separate in the trial. As it turns out, Judge Jones devoted most of his decision to denouncing ID as a scientific project, while making some polite noises about its possible interest as ‘theology’ – not much of a consolation from a judge who admitted in a newspaper interview that his brush with religion consists in his wife dragging him to the local Lutheran Church on Sundays.

The judge’s reasoning could have been simply lifted from the plaintiffs’ playbook. The American Civil Liberties Union scored a total win, easily justifying their legal fees. However, the fact that Judge Jones, who is ostensibly intelligent and independent, would rule so categorically against intelligent design suggests that those interested in the fate of the US legal system need to initiate a far-reaching discussion about the relationship between religion and science in public life, in which I would include the classroom. This should not have been such a cut-and-dry case. A constitutional principle that originally aimed to prevent the establishment of a state-sponsored church is now being invoked to prevent the expression of views, regardless of merit, that happen to have religious origins and inspire religious support.

Regardless of Judge Jones’s appreciation or approval, virtually every major scientific world-view began with what contemporaries regarded as controversial political and religious assumptions. Galileo stands out in the Scientific Revolution because he spoke plainly and, not surprisingly, stood trial and suffered house arrest. Most others, not least Isaac Newton, concealed their motives. The project of rendering controversial political and religious assumptions ‘scientific’ involves enabling others not sharing those assumptions to find enough intrinsic merit in the positions themselves to accept or at least tolerate them. Newton was a genius because he could translate his theological insight into mathematical terms that commanded assent even from those who would not otherwise accept his theology. Of course, this scientific ‘sublimation’ of the original religious impulse typically invite new converts who take the position in radically new directions: How many people today think that they’re affirming Unitarianism when they work with Newtonian mechanics?

But sublimation is not possible without public exposure. In contrast to the 17th century, we claim to inhabit societies where people are mature enough to think for themselves. At the very least, this means that they possess ideas, not the other way round. No one seriously doubts that contemporary ID is historically connected to scientific creationism’s opposition to Darwinism. Unfortunately, the judge treated this point as a permanent strike against ID, as if to teach ID would be to unleash that entire history upon unsuspecting students. And who is being ‘supernatural’ here?!

Moreover, the US seems to have no trouble divorcing the origins from the import of scientific views when it comes to matters of race. The racist motives of biologists are not routinely investigated before deciding whether their work should be taught, despite their potential for subverting the grounds of universal civil rights. (But those so interested could ferret around recent discourse surrounding ‘genetic diversity’.) Darwin’s own magnum opus is fully titled: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, the connotations of which were happily embraced by Hunter’s Civic Biology, the high school text defended in the 1925 Scopes Trial. The ease with which the US legal system turns a blind eye to this matter reflects no more than that the nation was formally constituted with Black slaves but without an established church. The anchoring effect of a nation’s birth trauma should never be underestimated.

Let me stress that I am not calling for a witch-hunt for scientists’ racist motives, however more harmful they might be than their religious motives. Rather, I am calling for an amnesty on motives altogether. What was perhaps most disturbing about the judge’s decision was its reliance on the testimony of a professional conspiracy theorist, Barbara Forrest, who showed – quite correctly – the historical continuity between Christian fundamentalism and ID, including the Discovery Institute’s ‘Wedge Document’, a strategy for (re)turning the US to its Christian roots. When I was first shown this document during my deposition, my response was: ‘So what?’ That a particular scientific point-of-view is attached to – or even motivated by – a certain religious viewpoint backed by economic and cultural clout and dedicated to achieving specific political goals does not strike me as a problem in itself. The mere presence of a plan does not imply its success, as should now be clear from the many documents discovered in the 1950s alleging plots to turn the US into a puppet state of the Soviet Union. I mention this precedent because Forrest, a philosopher like myself, did her Ph.D. on Sidney Hook, a student of John Dewey who became just such an anti-Communist.

I have a lot of faith in the future of science and the United States. But both deserve better than what Judge Jones delivered in his verdict. The judge ignored a precedent set by McLean v. Arkansas (1982), the landmark case that banned creationism from high school science classes. The presiding judge, William Overton based his ruling on the expert testimony of the noted historian and philosopher of science, Michael Ruse. For the first time in a US court case, a definition of science was invoked that did not rely on whatever most scientists happen to think. To be sure, Ruse’s definition supported the scientific establishment but without making reference to it. At the time, Ruse was excoriated by his colleagues for lack of nuance, yet he succeeded in providing what philosophers value most: an independent standard for deciding validity. Francis Bacon’s invention of the ‘scientific method’ 400 years ago can be seen as a version of Ruse, but now acting as judge rather than witness. It was not a trivial achievement the first time round, nor was it when Ruse re-invented it. Unfortunately, this history was lost on Judge Jones, whose idea of neutrality required driving out religion from science simply because it challenged the received view of the scientific establishment.

Also, Steve will be speaking in January on ID at the following venues:
Thomas More Institute, London (Wednesday, 25 January). Contact person is Andrew Hegarty:
University of Bristol, Philosophy Department (Tuesday, 31 January). Contact person is Alexander Bird:


Blogger Michael J. Iliff said...

A very interesting article by Steve Fuller.
As a mature student at Warwick I was in Steves seminar group for the first year (2000-01).
I would be interested to know if his world-view extended beyond sympathy toward IDT and a desire for a level playing field.

PS. I spoke to a mutual friend in Peter Glover this evening.

8:45 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Hello and Welcome Michael!

My impression is that Steve would say does not... but he may answer for himself.

9:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No matter how thin you slice it, no matter what angle you look at it, intelligent design is not science.

As Fuller said under oath unless the definition of science is changed, intelligent design does not stand a chance. This is a good thing.

If we change the definition of science to include intelligent design, we will also have to include astrology, witchcraft, alchemy, Raelian "Atheist Intelligent Design" and others.

Leading intelligent design experts gave their testimony and Judge Jones heard every word. Obviously they did not convince him. What a reasonable person must ask themselves is if ID is science why could they not convince the judge?

I think the intelligent design advocates ought to stop whining about the judgement and go fine tune their theories, come up with some that will pass the test of reason and the definition of science.

Miles Christopher

6:45 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

On the Definition of science Judge Jones III was not exactly convincing to say the least (In my view) If I remember rightly he said that the definition of science is set by convention and by how does that work?

7:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'
Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking Glass"

7:43 pm  
Anonymous Bob O'H said...

"The racist motives of biologists are not routinely investigated before deciding whether their work should be taught..."

I'm a biologist, and resent the implication that I'm a racist. I do hope that was just poor phrasing on Prof. Fuller's part, and that he will clarify what he meant.


7:45 pm  
Anonymous David Dubord said...

Steve Fuller and the rest of the ID movement need to stop lying. The notion that the judge ruled that ID is not science because its proponents are religious (or that their religion led them to the theory) is patently false. Judge Jones ruled that ID is not science because its defenders demonstrated, through their own testimony, that they have no hypothesis, that they must change the definition of science for their theory to be considered, that they have done little to no research, that they are not even planning on doing real research and that their "science" contains no actual content. So what are they doing? Waging a political war to get their religious ideas taught in science class. Let me say that again: they have a religious idea, no science to back it up, and they tried to get the government to teach it to our children. That's against the law, my friend, and exactly why Judge Jones – an honest man – ruled as he did.

There is no point in even commenting on the rest of Fuller's "argument" – that stuff about the relationship between religion and science. Do you wanna be Newton or Galileo? Wanna have your religiously inspired hypothesis elevated to accepted scientific theory? Do the science.

This entire article is based on a falsehood. Tell the truth and Fuller's reasoning becomes irrelevant. My message to you, Steve Fuller? Stop your lies.

7:58 pm  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

By ‘racist motives’ I mean ‘whatever racist motives’ biologists might have. I kept the phrase vague deliberately because I was stressing the idea of looking into whatever views about race might be motivating biological research. The idea then is presume guilt until innocence is proven, especially given biology’s long historical association with racism.

This seems to be at least part of the thinking behind the disqualification of ID as science, given the pivotal role played by the Wedge Document in the judge’s decision. The judge seems to think it’s perfectly OK to hold the entire psychological history of the people who have pursued a line of inquiry up for scrutiny before judging on its scientific merits. If the judge’s reasoning is taken in the spirit it’s intended then there’s no chance that ID could ever become science because its ties to religion run too deep.

Now suppose someone found documents in a leading biomedical lab that consists of a eugenic strategy for a renewed conceptualisation of races around the idea of genetic diversity. This might be leaked to the press, cause some embarrassment and some resignations and loss of funding, but I don’t think it would lead to a legal battle to close down the lab or ban the discipline’s knowledge base from being taught as science. And that’s exactly how it should be, even though I would regard the hypothetical document as much more dangerous to a free society than the Wedge Document.

8:08 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


Can you just remind me what the current definition of science actually is...also who decided it and when...

8:10 pm  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

My apologies to David Dubord for upsetting him but I don’t think you read the Judge’s entire ruling. Yes, he didn’t think there was any science in ID but he also took the easy option – at least in US law – of presuming that science and religion are mutually exclusive categories, such that religious motivation alone is prima facie grounds for questioning the scientific status of ID.

I know this because I never denied the religious roots of ID – and even said that they were positively conducive to science, as in the Times Higher piece over Xmas. As it turns out, in the dozen or so times the Judge cited me in his decision, it was almost always to bring this point up as grounds for disqualifying ID as science.

The Wedge Document played a pivotal role in this trial in establishing religious motives. The most controversial moment inside the courtroom came when the defence attorneys tried to get Barbara Forrest disqualified as an expert witness because her expertise allegedly pertained only to the Wedge Document, which she has studied in exhaustive detail. They failed, and the Judge based much of his reasoning on her testimony.

8:19 pm  
Anonymous Ted Nannariello said...

Hey Steve, what's the hypothesis for Intelligent Design and how can it be falsified?

Whenever you're ready...

9:21 pm  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

It is, to me, demonstrative of some inherent inability to speak honestly when someone urging against evolution argues that the subtitle of Darwin's book, Origin of Species might somehow be a basis for racism in biology.

First, human evolution is not addressed in that book. Mr. Fuller, I am guessing with good evidence, has never read Darwin through.

But more to the point, Darwin himself was a great advocate against racism and especially against the most manifest form of racism of his time, slavery. Darwin and so far as we know everyone else in the Wedgewood family put their fortune and words to ending slavery in the UK. Darwin's writings repeatedly refer to the nobility of Africans, especially outside of Africa, and in one case he refers to a slave rebellion leader as the equal of any of the storied Roman generals.

In short, Darwin was not a racist and actively campaigned against racism and slavery.

If you wish to impugn the reputation of a great man, Mr. Fuller, do it directly. But I warn you, cutting off the legs of a large man will never make you larger. Nor will falsely impugning the reputation of Darwin do anything to pull research papers out of ID advocates, who to a person seem to be absolutely allergic to doing any research that gets close to the issue of ID.

9:42 pm  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

My apologies for upsetting Ed Darrell but the issue of racism is not as cut and dry as you portray it. First of all, I know Darwin says hardly anything about humans in Origin of Species -- and to spare you further worry, I also know that 'race' was used as a quite generic term for 'sub-species' at the time to cover all forms of life.

That Darwin and his family was against slavery, however, does not prove he was not a racist. By the early 19th century, there were loads of good political and economic reasons to be against slavery that left racism largely intact. You'd want to look into a wider range of opinions, including cross-national migration and breeding of people from different cultures, classes and colours.

A large part of the scientific impetus for racism had to with the 'blending' view of heredity that many evolutionists, i.e. too much cross-breeding could dilute valuable traits. This is how eugenics got its legs, courtesy of Francis Galton, Darwin's cousin.

10:02 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Can you just remind me what the current definition of science actually is...also who decided it and when...

There's at least two possible definitions. First is in terms of why we have the scientific method: to ensure our results are as convincing to an impartial, informed jury as we can possibly make them.

Second is in terms of the various techniques used to achieve this - when you make an assumption you document the grounds upon which you think it's valid, when you use experimental data you ensure that it's reproducible (in the case of a fossil this might mean allowing other groups to date it separately), when you make a hypothesis you first do your best to disprove it, and so on. All this is fairly common-sense once the central idea of credibility through extreme skepticism is in place.

In the US, the traditional means to ensure that the government didn't play silly blighters was to make sure the populace had guns. In science, the traditional means to ensure that scientists don't play silly blighters is to subject their claims to every non-fallacious counterargument we can think of. If their claims can survive that baptism of fire, they're probably good science. If they don't, as with cold fusion* or the recent kerfuffle over Dr Hwang's cloning experiments, the default assumption must be that the results are wrong.

I don't think this was ever explicitly decided (although I could be wrong) - it appears to have... um... evolved due to the fact that the most demonstrably trustworthy scientists were the most likely to be believed by their peers. This was gradually formalised by philosophers of science such as Popper, who viewed the scientific method as a means of creating what he called an "open society". With the advent of open source and the blogosphere as means of producing trustworthy information, this view seems rather prescient.

The problem with intelligent design is that it, as a movement, is not willing to submit itself to this essential scrutiny. This is fairly sensible from a certain perspective - it would undoubtedly fail as the ID advocates have shown absolutely no interest in being skeptical about their own work, which is an essential first step to being taken seriously by the scientific community (otherwise you're probably just another crank). However, this means that their attempts to treat ID as scientifically valid are disingenuous at best.

I speak as someone who, whilst not a scientist (maths student, in fact), has been following this debate for some time. In particular, I've spent several months now debating in detail on the Intelligent Design forum. I have yet to see anything that remotely resembles the scientific method coming from an ID advocate. The absolute best I've seen is mathematical gibberish which, as a mathematician in training, I am sufficiently experienced to recognise as boiling down directly to an argument from absurdity.

Btw: hi all, I hadn't come across this blog before. Very cool name (I'm another Brit) and I look forward to visiting here a lot.

10:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve your side lost because you could not convince a judge that ID was science. Period.

Regardless of the motives of the Dover school board, ID has NO scientific validity whatsoever. In spite of the lies told by certain Dover board members, ID has no scientific validity. In spite of the Wedge Document and in spite of Forrests' testimony, ID has no scientific validity.

At Both you and Behe are considered to the the best defense witnesses for the paintiff. Why? Because you both admitted under oath ID has no scientific validity.

And now you and the Discovery Institute cannot stop whining or lying about the verdict.

Want to stop looking like someone who is promoting healing crystals and cancer curing magnets? Go get a theory that is scientific and stop promoting recycled creationism.

Stop being a sore loser. You lost because you should have lost, your side was wrong and still is wrong. Whining is not going to change that one bit.

ps: Did you catch Behe on Hannity and Colmes. When asked if the intelligent designer is really God, Behe asserted the intelligent designer could be a time traveler or space alien. How scientific is that? We have never seen and have no evidence for any time traveler or space alien yet he suggests either of those two could be behind irreducible complexity.

What a total quack and nut job, and you call this science? This is like saying

"the wackadoodledoo is behind irreducible complexity"

Um, what exactly is a wackadoodledoo?

"I don't have to define a wackadoodledoo or provide the nature of the wackadoodledoo, or provide evidence of the wackadoodledoo, but Irreducible complexity proves the existance of the wackadoodledoo"

Yeah Steve, that's the exact sort of thing I want my kids to learn in science class. And that silly mousetrap analogy you kooks use is especially ignorant and offensive.

You should be ashamed of yourself for promoting this sort of complete nonsense to our children.

Miles Christopher

10:20 pm  
Anonymous David Dubord said...


You make it far too easy for me. How do you respond to an accusation of dishonesty? By lying again. Judge Jones did not pit science vs. religion. Let me quote him:

“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.”

That’s two strikes Steve, care to try for three?

Judge Jones didn’t use religious motivation as prima facie grounds for questioning the scientific status of ID. He used your motives for determining whether you were trying to inject religion into a science classroom. What the judge DID rule was that ID had no scientific merit, regardless of any religious convictions of those arguing for or against it. ID isn’t science. You testified as such under oath. Why else would we need to change the definition of science?

You want to make it sound like the Judge has banned research into ID (wait… was that strike three?). He didn’t. He correctly banned teaching it as science (because it isn’t science) in science class. Everyone in Dover, PA (as well as the world) is as free today to research ID as they were before the ruling. And even if he did ban research into ID, why would you care if he banned something you aren’t doing?

So to summarize my point (and also because it doesn’t get said often enough to ID advocates): Stop lying (and yes, it offends me when people lie. Don’t apologize for offending me. Apologize for lying).


Let me quote the Dover ruling:

“Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID's project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural.”

Rather than ask me what the definition of science is, why don’t you ask Steve why he testified under oath that the definition needs to be changed in order to include ID?

But if that’s uncomfortable for you, let’s just take step one in the scientific method: a testable hypothesis. I believe someone asked this question already in this thread. What’s the answer?

Wow, I’m a heinously slow poster. While typing this, others seem to have taken up the mantle of what science is for me. I need to think faster, never mind my typing speed.

10:42 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

I guess that "liar" was banned from UK parliament because if we just shout "liar" at each other we go nowhere apart from test who can shout the loudest...I can tell you from many experiments that it is ...the group with the largest number of members....usually.

11:28 pm  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

Is this your own personal definition or is it the "official every single real scientist agrees" definition?

11:31 pm  
Anonymous Ted Nannariello said...


Let me quote the Dover ruling:

“Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID's project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural.”

Rather than ask me what the definition of science is, why don’t you ask Steve why he testified under oath that the definition needs to be changed in order to include ID?


Andrew, did you want to address the above, or just continue to dodge it?

By the way, we're not *saying* people are liars... we can prove it. Big difference.

Knock it off.

11:33 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Andrew: it's my personal variant of the commonly accepted version. I doubt you'll ever get a strict and complete definition that works in every single situation because the scientific method is fundamentally goal-oriented - the scientists work from a standard toolkit (see link) but different elements of the toolkit might be appropriate in given situations, depending on the variety of valid criticisms people are likely to come up with.

For example, a group of scientists operating the world's biggest particle accelerator would naturally expect that their experiments would be subject to irreproducibility simply because no-one else can afford the equipment. Therefore it's very important that they proactively give other scientists access to the data as it comes out of the machine and reactively grant full visiting rights to anyone who has the slightest suspicion that something dodgy's going on.

A group of scientists investigating the effects of electric currents on deuterium-saturated palladium rods who suddenly discovered an apparent source of nuclear fusion would have less trouble with reproducibility but could be expected to have more people worried about whether the cause was in fact nuclear. Therefore it would be essential for them to repeat the experiment using standard hydrogen instead of deuterium to ensure that any effects were in no way chemical. Fleischman and Pons failed to do that when investigating "cold fusion" and that's part of why they got slated for it.

The obvious concern that would arise in the face of any discovery of real-world Intelligent Design is: have they actually discovered intelligent design or are they just slating standard evolutionary theory. The first would probably only be considered to have occurred if the team actually managed to make contact with the Designer in a reproducible fashion. If they were just slating standard evolutionary theory, the argument would have to be extremely watertight to be considered to be even circumstantial evidence for a Designer. So far I have yet to see an ID team address these concerns - in particular, there is currently no such watertight argument, and I personally doubt there ever will be one (happy to debate this if you disagree).

1:22 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Incidentally, your site's been mentioned a couple of times in one of the more active threads cos of Dr Fuller's comments (that's how I found it) so you can expect to get mildly swamped by other PTers for a couple of days.

1:32 am  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

Oh dear, more people are upset. Since so many of these issues have been treated before on various blogs (which are easy to access by Google), I’m going to have to be brief:

When the judge says science and religion aren’t ‘antithetical’, all he means is that you can be religious and do science – that is, unless you happen to mention anything sounding like religion in a science class. People who supported the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine in racial segregation laws in the US also seemed to think that Blacks deserved formal equality with Whites, but each in their own classroom. So too, science and religion, separate but equal.

What this means is that everything the Judge says about science and religion not being antithetical is compatible with the idea that science and religion are mutually exclusive categories. I find this mutual exclusiveness both psychologically and sociologically implausible, though it’s politically convenient in the US context.

Strange as it may sound to many of you, I really believe that religion and science do overlap enough in their concerns that there are really only two sensible views on the matter: (a) either the strong Dawkins-Dennett line that treats religion as bad science or illusion, or (b) the idea that religion actually informs and gives some direction to science that it might otherwise lack. In either case, religion needs to be discussed in science classes. I can’t see how one can simply hold science and religion in suspended animation apart from each other, as Steven Jay Gould, e.g., has suggested in ‘The Two Magisteria’. Yet this seems to be the judge’s opinion. It’s more PC nonsense, as far as I’m concerned.

Finally, ID HAS put itself up for scrutiny: Otherwise, its opponents wouldn’t be able to cite the peer-reviewed publications CRITICIZING its assumptions, alleged findings, etc. The problem is that opponents of ID want more upfront in terms of positive results before allowing it into the science classes. My view is that there is enough hostility to ID – precisely because of its religious motives – that it amounts to systematic discrimination of the kind historically associated with race, gender, etc.; hence, my remarks about ‘affirmative action’, which the Judge did not buy, of course. Also, ID’s supporters don’t have sufficient grasp of the historical precedents which they could draw to provide a backstory to their views.

In any case, the Judge’s decision is simply an excuse to air these debates again. Had he decided the exact opposite, anti-ID people would have been jumping all over him, saying that a courtroom isn’t the appropriate place to decide matters relating to science. Some of you were already saying that before the verdict, hedging your bets.

5:37 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


Presumably you are accusing Steve of dishonesty rather than me...I am not aware of this being prooved and doubtless there are many of the readers of the blog who are unaware of it too. Would you mind either giving the references that demonstrate his dishonesty or providing an account yourself in a comment?

10:03 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...

If the currently accepted definition of science excludes intelligent design then needs to change.
But writing a definition of science is not as easy as some seem to think it is.

10:07 am  
Blogger Andrew Rowell said...


What do you think of Kuhn's work?

10:11 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Thanks for discussing this with us, Dr Fuller. I fully admit to being an uneducated numpty as far as sociology is concerned, so I wouldn't usually dare to challenge your more informed verdict, but there's a couple of points that are worrying me. In particular, you said:

When the judge says science and religion aren’t ‘antithetical’, all he means is that you can be religious and do science – that is, unless you happen to mention anything sounding like religion in a science class. People who supported the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine in racial segregation laws in the US also seemed to think that Blacks deserved formal equality with Whites, but each in their own classroom. So too, science and religion, separate but equal.

What you seem to be saying is that religion should be considered, if not an equally valid method of discovering accurate and useful models of the world around us, then at least on the same pitch as science. I'd disagree. Science and the scientific method are essentially goal-oriented. Therefore, if there is an element of religious enquiry that enables more accurate models to be produced and tested then the scientific method will be automatically redefined to include that approach. Saying that such a technique arising from religion wasn't part of science would be like saying that a new approach to dodging three defenders and punting the ball in wasn't football just because a rugby player pulled it off first.

As a result, if there are any aspects of religion that are valuable to producing valid results, they'll automatically be part of science. Therefore, if religion were a strong method of discovering such results, science would still be stronger. (I personally would disagree that religion is a strong method of producing scientifically-valid results because what I've seen of it is oriented around a completely different goal, but that's another debate.)

The second thing that worries me is that you're apparently treating a cultural characteristic as analogous to a racial characteristic. Following this approach, one could equally easily say that the approach to life of Hannibal Lecter was "separate but equal" to that of Mother Teresa. I'm a moral relativist myself so would agree that this true at some sufficiently basic level, but this philosophical approach isn't particularly useful when making judgements about the world.

Thirdly, you seem to consider the science classroom (as opposed to the research faculty) to be the appropriate place to introduce new methodologies. I would strongly disagree - schoolkids, by and large, have not completed the process of gaining and fine-tuning their critical thinking faculties. You could introduce them to astrology or seances as a "valid scientific methodology" and the majority of them not only wouldn't so much as blink but would be actively irritated at anyone who did protest.

As I said before, I'm making these arguments from a position of minimal knowledge about sociology. If you think I'm extremely badly wrong, please feel free to restrict your response to a list of books I'd need to read to actually have a clue.

3:15 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Andrew: I'm afraid I don't have enough experience of philosophy to fully assess Kuhn's hypotheses. From what I've seen his work is more an historical analysis than a discussion of what makes science science, and from that perspective it's very interesting. The idea that at a certain point paradigm shifts start to crystallise out of existing knowledge is rather relevant to me since I'm currently struggling with a classic example in the form of the powerful yet inscrutable Dirac formalism of Quantum Mechanics.

Accepting evolutionary theory as I do, I find it interesting to draw an analogy between this and events like the Cambrian explosion. Scientists spend ages accumulating a vast array of results, fine-tuning their theories to perfection, and then someone comes along with an entirely new approach that can effortlessly do anything that the old approach could, as well as much much more. The result is a massive flourish of innovation before scientists start to hit the limits of the system again.

Another analogous system is the dot-com boom - suddenly an entirely new and immensely powerful computer paradigm was discovered - the web - and innovation took off. To stretch the analogy to near breaking point, that means that the "Web 2.0" mini-boom which we're in the process of hitting is probably analogous to quantum field theory or something - a way to squeeze new juice out of the change in paradigm.

I'd be interested to know your thoughts on all this - you evidently have more familiarity with the philosophers of science than I do.

3:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The results of the Dover trial have proven Intelligent Design is a theory in crisis. It is full of holes and most scientists do not accept it as science. We should teach the controversy and this link will take you to PT where you'll find links to the Ken Miller speech given at Case where he discusses the Miller case and Intelligent Design the other day.

3:46 pm  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

Thanks to Lifewish for your comments.

First, you’re right as a point of history that scientifically useful ideas, regardless of origins, eventually get incorporated into science. But when looking at matters pedagogically, it is important to take the origins seriously, especially when the religious origins that have led to good science are not so different from the students’ own starting point. (And I’m thinking here about the US where the vast majority of people claim to be monotheists.)

I assume that education works best when it makes the most of what the students already have and believe. I also believe it’s more important that students learn to think scientifically, both in its critical and creative senses, than that they learn the current scientific dogma. (Also I think a lot LESS is at stake here than critics do: Treating Darwin’s account of evolution as a ‘mere theory’ doesn’t have much effect on most of what is taught in biology classes, which are still about classifying plants and animals, studying physiology, mastering the Krebs cycle, etc.) However, the signal sent by the judge’s decision is that religious thinking is irrelevant to scientific thinking. Especially in the US context, this is bound to alienate religious people from science – needlessly, in my view.

I raise the segregationist talk because the judge was very careful not to denigrate religion in his verdict. He thus adopted the relativist line of suggesting that religion and science each have their own sphere of inquiry. In contrast, I think science and religion – and I mean monotheism here – are best understood as substantially interpenetrative spheres.

ID has a major problem in making good on all this, though. It has no good high school textbooks. I have not read much of Pandas and People (and was not required to comment on it), but what I do know of it suggests that it is not adequate for high school science classes. Much better would be to recount the discovery processes of several notable scientists where concerns about God’s Plan informed how they framed their research problems, suggested lines of reasoning, hypotheses to test, etc. The idea, of course, would be to choose scientists whose divinely inspired modes of reasoning led to outcomes that even atheists accept as science. Paley is therefore a BAD choice, but Newton and Mendel are good ones.

4:37 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

OK, what you seem to be talking about is more the idea of giving religious people good role-models to raise their interest in science. If so, I agree completely that this is a very good idea, and it's part of why I'm so happy to have Ken Miller involved in this discussion - he helps stop it from devolving into Godless Science vs Idiotic Religion.

However, I'd strongly disagree that, in the interests of giving kids those role-models, it's acceptable to undermine scientific methodology. If, for example, ID were to be taught in the science class, it would be a rather nasty object lesson for the students - namely that claiming your views are religiously-motivated allows you to completely bypass the normal scientific approach of extreme skepticism. An intrinsic part of science is that no hypothesis gets a free pass (as with the current debate about Dr Hwang's cloning experiments, for example), so why should religion get access-all-areas?

I don't doubt that if the scientific community allowed Intelligent Design into schools it would increase interest in science among the religious community. The trouble is that, if the scientific community offered such an olive branch, then it would, in a very real sense, cease to be the scientific community.

6:21 pm  
Anonymous Lamuella said...


I for one would love it if a testable theory of intelligent design was proposed. I would love to see the predictions that the theory of intelligent design could make and the experiments that would demonstrate this design.

My problem with intelligent design as it currently stands is that it doesn't ask the questions I see as important in a scientific sense. Namely:

If life on this planet is designed intelligently, what does that mean with regard to the discoveries we will make about life and the mechanisms by which life operates?

These are not philosophical questions but scientific ones. THe idea of intelligent design, if it is a scientific idea, should have wide implications towards our understanding of the physical world. It should make statements about what we will discover. Evolutionary theory makes such statements about the idea that life descended by variation and selection.

The problem I have is that intelligent design is a hypothesis vague enough to encompass any discoveries science may make.

As I said, if a theory of design existed then I would look forward to looking at it. I just don't think such a theory will be forthcoming. The various groups who back ID, especially in the US, seem more concerned with what happens in schools and courtrooms than laboratories and other fields of research.

10:46 pm  
Anonymous Steve Fuller said...

To Lifewish:

Ken Miller claims to be a religious person who supports Darwin’s theory of evolution. Does he ever provide evidence that his religious beliefs have influenced the shape his scientific work has taken: i.e. without the religious beliefs, he would not have pursued the science as he has? I ask because I have not read Miller’s book trying to reconcile the two. But everything he said in court (and I also saw his brief film at the Darwin exhibit in NYC) suggests that, unless he told you, you would never guess he held any particular religious beliefs at all. Had I been the defence lawyer, I would have probed into this matter further in cross-examination. In his case, I’m not concerned with the authenticity of his science but of his religion – since that’s what gives his testimony so much rhetorical force.

I disagree with your characterization of scientific methodology as it is actually taught and practiced. If we operated with a philosophical standard of the scientific method, then, yes, the kind of scepticism you endorse would be the norm. But in practice, especially when we accept the idea that Darwin’s theory of evolution is ‘science’, then we need to assume a lot of stuff to make the links between, say, a fossil finding or a fruitfly experiment hook back up to general accounts of natural selection. For example, we need to assume a strong analogy between what goes on in the lab when a scientist alters the flies’ genetic material and what nature supposedly does in the wild. We also need to trust radiometric sources for the age of the earth. In other words, there are inferences and ideas from many different fields that need to hang together in certain ways in order for Neo-Darwinism to function as the covering theory of biological science. Any of them can be – and have been and are being – challenged.

Many of these actual and potential challenges have been highlighted by ID proponents. Perhaps they have spent too much time on this largely negative activity. However, it’s telling that the response of the scientific establishment tends to underplay the significance of these unresolved issues, even though they are quite major from a conceptual standpoint. And also they rarely make their way into the standard biology textbooks. If Neo-Darwinism is so vital for understanding modern biology, then you would think that biology textbooks would lay out the logical structure of the theory, how various disciplines contribute to it, and where the unresolved issues lay. Again, I may be wrong about this, but I don’t believe this is how the textbooks are normally written – otherwise, Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution wouldn’t have generated such consternation among biologists.

11:52 am  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Ken Miller claims to be a religious person who supports Darwin’s theory of evolution. Does he ever provide evidence that his religious beliefs have influenced the shape his scientific work has taken?

Not that I've noticed, although I don't have his book either (will check the copyright library when I get back to uni). However, I'm not sure I'd agree with the apparent assumption that religious beliefs can lead directly to good science. As exhibit A, I'd present Newton, who allowed his superstitions to influence his science and ended up an alchemist. Or Pythagoras, who, despite being an amazing mathematician, had a religious belief in the beauty of the rational number so strong that according to one account he responded to the world's first irrationality proof by drowning the luckless disciple who discovered it.

What evidence do you present that giving religion an easy time in scientific circles would be beneficial for science?

But in practice, especially when we accept the idea that Darwin’s theory of evolution is ‘science’, then we need to assume a lot of stuff to make the links between, say, a fossil finding or a fruitfly experiment hook back up to general accounts of natural selection.

I'd disagree. The only thing we need to assume to accept that Darwin's theory of evolution (or an appropriate modernisation thereof) is 'science' is that that theory be falsifiable. The ToE is usually verbalised as "RMNS evolution is sufficient to explain the diversity of life that exists today". This is eminently falsifiable - to pick one example of a billion, the discovery of a living magnemite or similar would probably be sufficient to disprove this theory, and if the ToE is untrue there's no good reason why this shouldn't occur. It's also notable that, under this definition, mainstream Intelligent Design fails to be science.

For example, we need to assume a strong analogy between what goes on in the lab when a scientist alters the flies’ genetic material and what nature supposedly does in the wild.

I'm not sure that "analogy" is the right word here - "correlation" might be more accurate. You're right that in the presence of evidence to the contrary, evolutionary biologists will amend their experiments where possible. This is, however, true of all areas of biology, as with the recent discovery that the presence of chitin renders the cholera bacterium less vulnerable to acid. I can't see any reason why this category of problems should be considered any more crippling in evolutionary biology than in other variants.

We also need to trust radiometric sources for the age of the earth.

Not particularly - as long as the fossil record is present, in however sketchy a form, we can use that to calibrate our "evolutionary clock". For the purposes of evolution it doesn't matter if the Earth is half the age we think it is, as long as the dating method is inaccurate in a consistent fashion. In this respect, the evolutionary state of the art is much less vulnerable to inaccuracies in the dating method than, say, geology or cosmology. So again I say: why pick on evolution?

Any of them can be – and have been and are being – challenged.

And a good thing too. That's what the scientific community does, after all. And of course various aspects of evolutionary theory itself are being challenged. The only reason that the core theory itself isn't generally challenged by biologists is the same reason that the existence of gravity isn't challenged by physicists, despite their longwinded discussion of what actually makes it tick.

However, none of this uncertainty, none of these challenges, none of this apparent shakiness goes any way to falsifying the ToE. If you think that it does then I invite you to consider that applying such logic consistently would result in a need to tie oneself to a building to avoid floating away, since such an application would certainly rule out gravity on a number of counts.

Falsification is the bottom line. And it repeatedly hasn't happened.

Many of these actual and potential challenges have been highlighted by ID proponents. Perhaps they have spent too much time on this largely negative activity.

Personally my worry is that the time they've spent on positive activity is completely fruitless, and yet they're still at it. That is not the action of an unbiased person. The closest I've seen them come to positive proof is in the definition of Complex Specified Information. After much discussion with one of the most vocal ID proponents (Salvador Cordova), it is my semiprofessional opinion as a third-year maths student that CSI is in fact just an argument from absurdity in prettier notation. In particular, it is not conserved and does in fact prove useless when presented with so much as a snowflake.

And also [these unresolved issues] rarely make their way into the standard biology textbooks.

Neither do the unresolved issues surrounding the theory of gravity, but students are still taught dx = 0.5*g*t^2.

Again, I may be wrong about this, but I don’t believe this is how the textbooks are normally written – otherwise, Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution wouldn’t have generated such consternation among biologists.

I'd agree that that's not how secondary-school textbooks are written, although it seems a fairly good description of the university-level textbooks I've come across. Again, the same goes for the theory of gravity.

Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge Wells' book didn't cause much consternation among evolutionary biologists - certainly the one I know finds intelligent design vaguely irritating more than anything. Her objection is the same as mine - why do people pick evolution out for lambasting when their statements apply equally well to almost any area of science?

The other reason that Wells' book didn't cause much controversy was due to the later discovery that he is acting with the sole intention of destroying Darwinism. This blatant display of bias has been more than enough to convince most biologists that any results he comes out with can't be trusted. The four horsemen of the unscientific apocalypse are Bias, Irreproducibility, Incompetence and Cluelessness, and it's a toss-up as to which of the first two is the worst. That quote was, in fact, instant death to Wells' scientific reputation, as it demonstrated that he had absolutely no interest in being objective.

7:36 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Allow me to briefly clarify that last point. The fact that Wells has no credibility in the eyes of the scientific community doesn't mean that he's wrong. Similarly, if I confidently assert to an astronomer that as a result of my religious studies I'm convinced that the moon is made of green cheese with a thin layer of rock on top, I could conceivably be right. This would not, however, mean that the astronomer should waste valuable time checking whether NASA is about to put the dairy industry out of business.

It's not necessarily true or necessarily false, but it's not automatically worth giving any consideration either. That's a level of respect that only comes from a willingness to play by the rules, and that's because the rules are tailored to stop anyone poisoning the scientific well, so failure to adhere to them can be considered strong evidence that silly buggers is occurring.

I consider the Discovery Institute, pretty much to a man, to be classic examples of this last point. Wells is a Moonie with the stated aim of destroying Darwinism, Dembski is a rather dodgy mathematician (from what I've seen of his maths) who is currently teaching the most appalling Critical Thinking syllabus I've ever laid eyes on at a seminary, Behe publically admitted that a definition of science broad enough to encompass ID must necessarily encompass astrology too... the list goes on. In fact, of the people who testified in the Dover trial on the Board's behalf, you, Dr Fuller, were the only one who came across as being honest in your intentions.

8:21 pm  
Anonymous Ted Nannariello said...

If the currently accepted definition of science excludes intelligent design then needs to change."


"But writing a definition of science is not as easy as some seem to think it is."

Who said it was easy? Still, I can find several and here's what they all have in common:

A testable, falsifiable hypothesis. ID doesn't have this, so it's not science. Now tell me again why we have to change the definition of science, which has worked for centuries, to allow for your mythology?

5:19 pm  
Anonymous Alexander said...

I've only just picked up this blog and thread so I'm probably a little late to the party, but I'll throw my hat into the ring anyway.

With respect to the issues around scientific racism and the original title of Darwin's 'Origins': While this has been picked up already what wasn't clear is why Prof. Fuller specifically changes tack on his naming the work as providing a racist basis for 'Civic Biology'. Does Prof. Fuller believe Darwin's original work to be racist or not, or is there some other more subtle component that his original post did not make?

The reason I'm not clear on why Prof. Fuller linked these works in a way which implies that Darwin was racist is that the term is redundant in a strictly scientific context. If Prof. Fuller suggests (even in support of his argument as opposed to genuinely putting forward such a proposal) that we should question whether biologists are 'racist' then I want a similar check on all Christians. I'd also like to place all Ministers and Priests on the Home Office's 'List 99' to prevent them working with children (due to the high incidence of paedophilia within clergy).

This obviously absurd proposal is to highlight a few distinct issues which Prof Fuller conflates (but in fairness the majority of the ID community does as well).

The first issue to note is that racism predates scientific racism by a considerable margin. Writers such as Gobineau were already drawing up guidelines on how to differentiate 'races' well before Darwin, and the scientific 'approval' of such notions usually came off the back of this kind of 19th century cultural determinism. Citing the possible racist motivations of a scientist is no more useful than saying the Bible is racist because it was used to justify segregation (both in the US and South Africa) and concepts surrounding white supremacy (the 'muscular Christianity' movement of 19th C. England). Does this make any of these assertions about race (Christian or 'scientific') correct? No, of course not. In fact science has done more to demonstrate (through genetics) that racism is both redundant and false. By the same fashion Prof. Fuller's argument is also redundant as it doesn't say anything except imply that all Biologists are somehow suspect of racism. If we are to follow the argument through then we are all suspect of racism as we are all plugged into the same set of cultural assumptions. There is no reason to suppose that Biologists are particularly victim to prejudice anymore than contemporary Christians are.

I can see what Prof. Fuller is driving at but here he is as guilty as the rest of the ID community in maing these kinds of superficial assessments (which surprises me considering his pedigree). Where ID falls over is not that a religious proposal is being made or assumed. It falls over because there is no evidence to support its assertions.

To go back to the examples of individuals such as Newton and Einstein. So they had specific religious views, but where exactly did they step outside the boundaries of naturalism in order to conduct experiments or explain observations? They may have maintained that 'ultimately' some deity or 'prime mover' was behind those observations but they did not make specific predictions that contradicted the evidence and were proved correct. Einstein didn't like the implications for God behind the logical conclusions of QM and Newtons suppositions on astrology and alchemy were clearly not something he is really noted for anymore (except as a historical aside).

What has happened is that those scientific notions that actually worked and have been evidenced to work have been carried forward. The religious convictions have little impact on the direct observational and empirical evidence which supports their theroies. This does not mean their religious convictions are any less for that but it does demonstrate that while someone can be inspired to scientific research to discover (how God did it) it doesn't mean the scientific process is changed by that supposition. I note that the only response from ID proponents to scientists who say they are Christians is to challenge whether they are 'true' Christians (I count at least 2 incidences of this here alone - once about Miller and whether he's really that much of a Catholic and about Jones' being dragged to church). This kind of speculative argumentation is disengenuous at best.

With respect to the testimony of Barbara Forrest:

Forrest clearly and definitively shows how ID was formed from the roots of Creationism. In other words that it has direct religious motivation. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that but it does beg a few questions - chief among those is 'why hide it?'. Secondly, up until recently Behe et al. have desperately claiming that ID has nothing to do with religion, that they are just following facts through to the religious conclusion. On this blog, and from Prof. Fuller no less (and elsewhere within the Id community) it appears that religion is now in fact a serious and direct factor in both shaping and forming the concept of ID and where it's going to go from here. Far from wanting to teach Id as science both Prof Fuller and Prof. Behe want to redefine science and Prof Fuller wants to reintroduce religion back into the science classroom.

There is either a heavy degree of cognitive dissonance within the ID movement or the DI party message is just not being received.

Ultimately ID has still not provided anything except a 'this far and no further' statement based on IC. This isn't even useful as a scientific concept as ultimately what does it allow us to do in any practical sense whatsoever? It might demonstrate the existence somewhere, somehow or an unknown and not to be speculated upon designer (because this is what Behe states within Darwin's Black Box - it is not 'necessary' to discuss the nature of the designer).

I would invite the ID community to provide a method of studying ID within their own proposed theoretical constraints and of defining a reasonable method of actually taking it forward other than highlighting gaps in evolutionary models (the scientists are already aware of the gaps) and crying 'foul' everytime a religious argument is found wanting when it comes to explaining natural phenomenon

12:16 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Any word from Prof. Fuller lately? This thread seems to have died somewhat, which is a shame.

12:52 pm  
Blogger Ed Darrell said...

Mr. Fuller, of course there's opposition to intelligent design in the classroom! That opposition might be characterized as discrimination, but that's not bad. The same people who oppose ID also oppose putting cow pies in the kids' milk. Their opposition to that unsanitary and stupid action does not mean the unsanitary and stupid action should be considered.

And so with ID. Yes, it's discriminated against. As science it's unsound; as religion, it's unholy. That's as close to "unsanitary and stupid" as one need get to figure out it doesn't belong in classrooms being shoveled at children.

4:42 am  
Anonymous mojomojo said...

David, I think you're wasting your time with these people. You never convince these people that ID is just a bunch of bullshit that it is. You're dealing with people who either lack the intellectual capacity to understand the flaws in ID or are simply assholes out to delude more people rather than admit error.
The question I would ask these people is this - what evidence would make you not believe in ID?


12:35 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The question I would ask these people is this - what evidence would make you not believe in ID?"

The bones of Jesus Christ.

8:18 pm  

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