Saturday, September 02, 2006


The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

Casey Luskin is off to an ambitious start with his magnum opus 10-part response to Barbara Forrest’s account of the Dover intelligent design trial in which she served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs.

Interestingly, in order to attack Forrest, Luskin has decided he must dethrone Phillip Johnson, whose name is most often placed in apposition to the words, “father of intelligent design theory.”

“While Phillip Johnson's work inspired many people to investigate scientific deficiencies of Neo-Darwinism,” Luskin asserts, “Johnson is not a scientist and has done not been one (sic) who has formulated the actual theory of intelligent design.”

Demoting Johnson from his role as the ID movement’s central thinker and strategist to that of sideline cheerleader is certainly an interesting choice on Luskin’s part.

Given Luskin’s perpetual ham-handedness, we can’t be sure whether he slighted Johnson’s contributions to the founding of ID on purpose. It’s just as likely the hit on the father of intelligent design was, for Luskin, just so much collateral damage -- the inevitable result of the rhetorical hand grenade he lobbed Barbara Forrest’s way.

Luskin fancies himself as a man who thinks many moves ahead, so let’s assume – that’s a word with a certain ID cachet – that young Luskin is in full command of his argument and its consequences. That is to say, he knows what he’s doing.

If that is so, Luskin’s oedipal attempt on the authority of Johnson is certainly not without precedent. Literature is filled with stories of clashes between ambitious young men and the elder statesmen they wish to replace.

For example, in Shakespeare’s “Second Part of King Henry the Fourth,” Prince Hal places the crown on his own head while his father sleeps. Young Hal’s motives, we know, are pure – he calls the crown a “polish’d perturbation” – but when the King awakens, Hal has left the room, and the sick old man mistakenly assumes the worst. Summoning lords Warwick, Gloucester, and Clarence to his side, the King asks:

Is he so hasty that he doth suppose
My sleep my death? (Act IV, Scene V, 60-61)

Warwick is then dispatched to bring Hal back into his father’s presence. When he arrives, the King asks,

Dost thou so hunger for mine empty chair
That thou wilt needs invest thee with my honors
Before thy hour be ripe? O foolish youth,
Thou seek’st the greatness that will overwhelm thee (Act IV, Scene V, 94-97)

Like Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Phillip Johnson has been in ill-health in recent years. A series of strokes have weakened him physically. When we last heard him speak in Topeka he had to be assisted to the stage and spoke sitting down. Nevertheless, he delivered his talk quite effectively getting a warm response from the friendly audience in attendance.

In a foreshadowing that the greatness he seeks may ultimately overwhelm him, Luskin’s reproach to Forrest – his attempt to seize the crown before Johnson may be quite ready to surrender it – quickly comes to grief on the rocky shoals of his own faulty reasoning.

Having solemnly declared that Forrest was wrong, wrong, wrong to accept Johnson’s definition of intelligent design because he “is not a scientist,” Luskin proceeds to insist that Forrest should have turned instead to “William Dembski, who makes it clear that ID is inferred using an empirical methodology.”

(“Infer” like “assume” being key words in the ID lexicon.)

The only problem with that argument is that Dembski, a mathematician and theologian who currently makes his home at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, is not a scientist either.

Johnson and Dembski may not be scientists, but that doesn’t mean that Luskin is without rhetorical resources left in his ID ammo belt. “The theory of intelligent design was first formulated,” he writes, “by scientists like Charles Thaxton and Dean Kenyon.”

This is represents a second fascinating choice on Luskin’s part, especially for someone who is attempting to rebut Forrest’s argument that intelligent design is but a dwarf species of creationism – the Pluto, perhaps, of the teleological solar system.

That’s because those who remember their history will recall that Kenyon was recruited to testify on behalf of creation science in McLean v. Arkansas. Kenyon was deposed in the case, arguing that creation-science and evolution should be given “balanced treatment” in public schools, but he skedaddled just before he was scheduled to appear in court.

Kenyon’s many other connections to creation science are detailed here.

Even if Johnson and Dembski aren’t scientists, and Kenyon is a creationist, all may not be lost in the great flood of words flowing out of Seattle to prove that ID is not creationism in disguise.

Students of Luskinania will remember that, being in possession of an MS in Geology and having had his name on a published, peer-reviewed paper, Luskin believes himself a scientist. Just as being in possession of a law degree and having been admitted to the bar, he also considers himself to be a lawyer.

So, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, it may be that Luskin thinks himself more qualified than both Johnson and Dembski, and not as tainted by a known association with creationism as Kenyon.

If so, can it be long before young prince makes his move and crowns himself the new king of ID?

Alternatively, and some will argue more plausibly, it may simply be that Luskin is just so slow-witted that he didn’t realize that it might not have been the best idea in the world to demolish Johnson’s authority in the course of writing a meaningless and over long response to Barbara Forrest.

Few will read Luskin’s 10-part opus, and even fewer will be convinced by it, but you can be sure that you’ll be stumbling across links to Luskin’s assessment that Johnson is neither a scientist nor the man who formulated the actual theory of intelligent design for many years to come.

Whether Luskin acted with malice aforethought or just shot himself in the foot, we have eight more promised installments to look forward to. And for RSR the only better news would be that HBO has decided to renew “Deadwood.”


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