Monday, October 03, 2005


Casey Luskin: A Pilgrim's Progress

Casey Luskin, a former mover and shaker in that mass cultural phenomenon known as the Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness (IDEA) Clubs -- a non-profit helping students to investigate evolution -- has a thankless job. Fresh from completing the student portion of the Phillip Johnson career path -- BS, MS in Earth Sciences, law degree -- he finds himself on the next rung of the ladder. He's landed a job as a staff member at the Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture.

As often happens when young people enter the workaday world, Mr. Luskin is finding you have to do the drudge work first. The plum assignments come later. Fresh, eager, and new on the job, he's been handed the one job no one else in Seattle wants just now: explaining how what's happening in Kitzmiller v Dover School Board is really a big plus for intelligent design "theory."

Red State Rabble has always been a big fan of young people making their way in the world, and we're rooting for Mr. Luskin to put his stamp on things up there on Puget Sound. That's why we'd like to offer a few constructive criticisms of a post he wrote for Discovery's Evolution News and View blog Saturday.

Writing about the testimony of Robert Pennock, a professor of philosophy of science at Michigan State University, our Mr. Luskin assures us -- without citing the views of any actual philosophers of science, other than Dr. Pennock's, of course -- that there is no consensus over how science might be defined:

Pennock called this methodological naturalism (MN), and emphatically told the Court that this is the way science has worked, does work, and ever will work, at least since we became enlightened during the enlightenment.

The reality is that the consensus among philosophers of science is that there is no consensus among philosophers of science on the definition of science. The one exception seems to be Darwinist philosophers of science recommending MN as a definition for science when they are engaged in legal battles to stifle the teaching of intelligent design.

As with all things intelligent design, Methodological Naturalism is a term of art first employed, not by Darwinists, but by intelligent design "theorist" Phillip Johnson in the 1980s. It is, in his mind, more dangerous than atheism.

Science isn't so hard to understand, Mr. Luskin. It involves observation, experimentation, hypothesis testing, and theory building. In the workaday world of science, scientists seek natural explanations for the phenomena they observe in the world around us.

Supernatural, or teleological, explanations have been found too often wrong -- you 've heard some of them, the sun revolves around the earth, God directed the hurricane, earthquake, flood (choose one) to punish the wicked, and so on. All those good old ideas come from that refreshingly unenlightened period in our history that our Mr. Luskin so admires -- the dark ages.

It was, apparently, humanity's second bite of that fruit from the tree of knowledge that really grates up in Seattle.

In fact, the methods of reasoning advocated by Mr. Luskin have been found wanting for many centuries. Nearly 500 years ago, Francis Bacon, father of deductive reasoning, called these sorts of explanations "barren virgins" because they lead nowhere but where we've already been.

Productive scientists look for evidence. Like the residents of RSR's neighboring state, Missouri, they say, "show me."

There is an additional, and perhaps more difficult, problem for Mr. Luskin, as well. While we have no doubt that he can find some underemployed philosopher of science -- Discovery has a number in their stable -- to dispute the accepted definition of science, he will also have to overcome precedent in the courts.

He says defenders of science use the dreaded methodological naturalism "definition for science when they are engaged in legal battles to stifle the teaching of intelligent design." And, guess what, back in 1982, before intelligent design was even a glimmer in Phillip Johnson's eye, the court settled on this definition of science in McLean v. Arkansas:

  1. It is guided by natural law;
  2. It has to be explanatory by reference to nature law;
  3. It is testable against the empirical world;
  4. Its conclusions are tentative, i.e. are not necessarily the final word; and
  5. It is falsifiable.

Fortunately for you, Mr. Luskin, you can ignore our well-meaning criticisms. At Discovery, your upward career trajectory need not be hindered by pesky "reality based" arguments. Your career will last as long as you hew uncritically to the party line -- many an old Stalinist could provide valuable insight here -- and Howard Ahmanson's money holds out.


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