Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Part III: Are ID Proponents Honest About What They Believe? An Exchange of Views With Casey Luskin

Last of three parts. [Part One] [Part Two]

Casey Luskin, a staff member at the Discovery Institute, is unhappy about two of our posts, “Casey Luskin: A Pilgrim’s Progress” and “The Misinformation Train.” In his letter to RSR, Luskin wrote:
Regarding your most recent post, [Casey Luskin: A Pilgrim’s Progress, RSR] I’ve submitted the following post (appended below) to go online at Evolutionnews.org where I mention the references from prominent philosophers of science (who are all evolutionists, as far as I know), who have questioned both the McLean decision’s criteria of science and also explaining how the McLean definition of science has been rejected by many philosophers. That includes Michael Ruse, who essentially repudiated his testimony about a decade later. [As of this writing, Luskin's post has yet to appear, RSR]

First, Red State Rabble does not deny that there are philosophers of science who reject the McLean decision. In fact, RSR just finished reading the confused and not very persuasive testimony of Steve Fuller, a professor of sociology at the University of Warwick in the UK and witness for the defense in the Dover intelligent design trial.

But, once again, Luskin either gets wrong or misrepresents what we wrote:
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.
As readers can see, we did not say there were no philosophers of science who take a different view of the definition of science, rather, we said, Luskin failed to cite any examples.

To save readers the trouble of looking up how McLean defined science, here's the relevant excerpt:
  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.

Luskin doesn't like this definition which he says is used by only by Darwinist philosophers of science -- and here he is referring to the testimony of Dr. Robert Pennock, of Michigan State University who testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover trial -- as a definition for science when they are engaged in legal battles to stifle the teaching of intelligent design.

Of course, since the McLean decision was reached in 1982, long before intelligent design was even a glimmer in Phillip Johnson's eye, reasonable people may conclude this definition has a life independent of Luskin's pet notion.

We have already stipulated that there may be, as Luskin claims, philosophers of science who dispute the McLean definition of science -- although we suspect that they are keeping a low profile just now in the wake of Michael Behe's testimony in Dover that the intelligent design definition of science brings astrology back into the fold of the hard sciences -- but what of his assertion that Michael Ruse essentially repudiated his testimony in McLean a decade later?

Is there any truth to it? Oh, you Red State Rabble readers are such a cynical lot. But of course you are right to be cynical. There's no truth to it at all.

Luskin is referring to remarks made by Dr. Ruse at the 1993 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in a symposium on "The New Antievolutionism." You can find a transcript of his remarks here.

Red State Rabble is currently reading Ruse's new book, The Evolution-Creation Struggle, and, although we haven't quite finished it yet, we find ourselves increasingly persuaded by the argument he presents there. We don't pretend to know all the ins and outs of the intellectual journey that led Ruse to write his latest book, but we strongly suspect that its origin lies in that 1993 speech to the AAAS.

Here's what Ruse had to say in 1993 that set Luskin's heart a flutter:

[Phillip] Johnson was arguing was that, at a certain level, the kind of position of a person like myself, an evolutionist, is metaphysically based at some level, just as much as the kind of position of let us say somebody, some creationist, someone like [Duane] Gish or somebody like that. And to a certain extent, I must confess, in the ten years since I performed, or I appeared, in the creationism trial in Arkansas, I must say that I've been coming to this kind of position myself.

In The Evolution-Creation Struggle Ruse writes:

I argue that in both evolution and creation we have rival religious responses to a crisis of faith -- rival stories of origins, rival judgements about the meaning of human life, rival sets of moral dictates, and above all what theologians call rival eschatologies -- pictures of the future and of what lies ahead for human kind (page 3).

At first blush, these two statements would seem to give strong support to Luskin's claim that Ruse now repudiates his 1982 testimony in McLean, and therein lies an irony, and as longtime RSR readers know, there's nothing we like better than irony.

When Ruse made these remarks, he was well aware that creationists and intelligent design activists such as Phillip Johnson would take what he had to say out of context, just as Luskin now has, and use it against defenders of science.

That's why he also said -- and Luskin consciously fails to cite -- this:

I don't come here preaching creationism or preaching, you know, some message of negativism: folks give up, modern philosophy of science is now showing that science is just as much a religion as creation science, so frankly folks there's nothing that you could do, and if I could go back ten years to Arkansas I'd just reverse everything.

And Luskin certainly doesn't cite this from Ruse's book, either:

I am a very publicly committed evolutionist, an ardent Darwinian, and for three decades now I have been fighting creationists on the podium, in print, on television and radio, in court. Let me reassure, or disappoint, my readers by saying I am not now about to confess to a conversion (page 2).

Is there an inherent contradiction in Ruse's statements? We don't think so.

Methodological naturalism, the practice of science, which we teach in the public schools can -- and should -- be separated from metaphysical inferences some of us draw from an observation of the data produced by science.

The evidence and observations that support scientific theories, such as evolution, are based on methodological naturalism, more commonly referred to as the scientific method. Some inferences that believers in metaphysical naturalism -- such as Red State Rabble -- draw from the data of science are derived from logic, but are not, or at least not yet, backed up by persuasive scientific evidence.

Creationism and intelligent design are not supported by any evidence at all. They are all inference and assumption and nothing more. That's why they shouldn't be taught in public schools.

There's an interesting illustration of this problem from the debate over the science curriculum in Kansas. The standards, as proposed by the pro-science majority, are silent on abiogenesis, the development of living organisms from nonliving matter. That's because there is not yet enough evidence to persuade scientists that we know how it happened. As Ernst Mayer observes in What Evolution Is:

In the last 75 years, an extensive literature dealing with this problem has developed and some six or seven competing theories have been proposed. Although no satisfactory theory has yet emerged, the problem no longer seems as formidable as at the beginning of the twentieth century (page 42).

In the face of this uncertainty, the Kansas science curriculum committee had no trouble concluding that the origin of life was not yet ready to be added to the science standards. The intelligent design minority led by John Calvert and William Harris showed no such reticence.

Because intelligent design theorists see the disagreements among scientists over the origin of life as a weakness in evolutionary theory, they were eager to include their own metaphysical inferences on life's origin in the standards.

The new anti-science standards, expected to be adopted by the board on Nov. 8, falsely say, "Some of the scientific criticisms [of origins, RSR] include:

a. A lack of empirical evidence for a “primordial soup” or a chemically hospitable pre-biotic atmosphere;

b. The lack of adequate natural explanations for the genetic code, the sequences of genetic information necessary to specify life, the biochemical machinery needed to translate genetic information into functional biosystems, and the formation of proto-cells; and

c. The sudden rather than gradual emergence of organisms near the time that the Earth first became habitable.

This issue illustrates the real differences between science, on the one hand, and creationism and intelligent design, on the other. Science is supported by evidence and observation. ID and creationism are not. Skeptics, such as Red State Rabble, draw inferences from the data of science that inform our beliefs. Unlike creationists and intelligent design activists, we have learned to resist the urge to include these beliefs in introductory high school science curriculums.

Michael Ruse's 1993 remarks do not constitute a repudiation of his testimony in McLean. On the contrary, they represent an intellectually honest, and courageous, recognition that the metaphysical inferences some of us draw from the fact of evolution are no more based in methodological naturalism than any other set of beliefs, including creationism.

As is so often the case with intelligent design activists, Luskin has mined Ruse's remarks in order to distort their meaning in a way that would seem convincing to the sort of person who never bothers to go beyond the secondary source to the original. That is the sort of person the great showman P.T. Barnum had in mind when he (perhaps apocryphally) said, "There's a sucker born every minute."

Note: RSR would like to thank Dr. Robert Pennock for his very helpful suggestions in preparing this post.


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