Ed Brayton posted Entry 15 on March 24, 2004 03:46 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/14

Kevin Drum, the legendary CalPundit, parlayed his blogging success into a job for the Washington Monthly. In a post today, he reviews the battle between Lawrence VanDyke and Brian Leiter (and myself, ultimately) and comes to a somewhat surprising conclusion:

I've been following the whole thing with one eye, and while I have no sympathy for the ID jihadists I admit that all along I've had a sneaking feeling that, in fact, maybe it really was a bit inappropriate for an influential, tenured law professor to write such a blistering attack on a lowly student. Positions of power and all that, you understand.

Today, though, I finally got around to reading VanDyke's note (warning: large, slow-loading file) and I immediately changed my mind: Leiter probably went too easy on this cretin. Here's the damning sentence:

...while lumping ID with creationism may be a good rhetorical strategy for ID's opponents, it only detracts from an independent and rigorous evaluation of the merits of ID's claims against those of naturalistic evolution.

This sentence could be written only by someone entirely ignorant of both the history and substance of ID (which VanDyke surely isn't) or someone who is simply a shill for creationism.

But Drum isn't done yet. He continues:
I expected that VanDyke's book note (and Beckwith's book) would claim that schools should be allowed to teach ID on the basis of some kind of abstract legal or philosophical basis, which might be a perfectly publishable argument. Not so. Instead they argue on the obviously specious grounds that (a) ID isn't creationism and (b) ID is perfectly plausible science.

Leiter was right both on the facts and in the tone he took: it was scholarly fraud. The Harvard Law Review should be ashamed of itself.

While this is still more harshly than I would put it, the truth remains, as I said here and here, that on the substantive issues, Leiter was correct and VanDyke was guilty, at the very least, of absurdly sloppy pseudo-scholarship.

One last note on Drum's article. He says:

It turns out there's one silver lining to this whole dark cloud: it has apparently inspired a group of scientists to start a blog called The Panda's Thumb, dedicated to debunking the daily assaults on evolution from the ID zealots and the religious right. It's only a day old but already appears to be a terrific source. Check it out.
While we certainly appreciate the plug, it should be noted that the formation of this blog was not inspired by this incident at all. It is a mere coincidence that one followed on the heels of another, though I'm quite certain that some of our friends from the Discovery Institute could put together a compelling Argument from Really Big Numbers showing the staggering implausibility of those two things occuring in that specific order by random chance alone.

Commenters are responsible for the content of comments. The opinions expressed in articles, linked materials, and comments are not necessarily those of PandasThumb.org. See our full disclaimer.

Comment #52

Posted by John Wilkins on March 24, 2004 4:03 PM (e)

Drum’s mistake is called “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” in both logic and the law :-) In statistics I think it’s a Type I error. This is somehow relevant to ID, I think…

Comment #55

Posted by bipod on March 24, 2004 4:59 PM (e)

Kevin sent me here.

All the best of luck to you in this new endeavor!

You are welcome in my home anytime.

Comment #56

Posted by Mooser on March 24, 2004 5:00 PM (e)

I am very glad to see this blog.
The best reason to believe in ID? It’s easier to understand than evolution. Even those who accept evolution very often have a faulty La Marqueian (sp?) understanding of the concept. You know, build those muscles so your kids will have good physiques. Also confusing societal competition with “survival of the fittest”. I hear that all the time.

Comment #58

Posted by Kevin Drum on March 24, 2004 5:16 PM (e)

Hmmm, just a coincidence, eh, Ed? Of course, you would say that, wouldn’t you?

(Just kidding, of course. Best of luck with the blog!)

As for being so harsh on VanDyke, it’s simply not believable that he was just sloppy. Especially since he’s a law student and obviously did a lot of research for his note. There’s simply no way he could have made the historical and substantive mistakes he made except deliberately.

Comment #59

Posted by DaveH. on March 24, 2004 5:53 PM (e)

I added your site to my ‘favorites’ list. Mr. Gould would be proud.

Comment #60

Posted by TonyB on March 24, 2004 5:59 PM (e)

We shouldn’t judge VanDyke too harshly. He was just obeying God – oops! – I mean, the Intelligent Designer.

Thanks to Kevin to bringing my attention to this site. Very fine.

Comment #61

Posted by TonyB on March 24, 2004 6:02 PM (e)

Mooser, the term you are looking for is Lamarckian, named after Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, an early evolutionist who thought acquired characteristics could be inherited (despite the millennia of evidence to the contrary provided by the practice of circumcision).

Comment #65

Posted by Elaine Supkis on March 24, 2004 6:39 PM (e)

The sad thing is, the people who believe in “Intelligent Design” are the same idiots who think Bush is smart.

Comment #66

Posted by Ed Brayton on March 24, 2004 6:48 PM (e)


I think that’s going too far. It’s simply not true that all advocates of ID are idiots, not by a longshot. Many of them are very bright. William Dembski, Michael Behe, Paul Nelson - these guys may be many things, but stupid they’re not. One can be wrong without being an idiot.

Comment #67

Posted by Lawrence VanDyke on March 24, 2004 7:06 PM (e)

To Celebrate this new blog - here is my final reply to Leiter and Company. I have posted it at Ex Parte. I post it here only because you all might find it of interest:

One Final Response to Leiter and Company:

So far Leiter and Meyers have labeled me, among other things, a “demonstrably ignorant ass,” a “pompous jerk[],” “intellectually dishonest,” and “incompetent.” Recognizing that a further response will likely prolong this unpleasantry, I nonetheless wish to clarify several things that have been lost amid all this sound and fury.

I probably erred in my initial response to Leiter, not because the content of my reply was substantively wrong (I believe it was predominately accurate), but because I responded directly to Leiter’s accusations without addressing the question of whether his challenges were themselves responsive to the actual content of my piece. In my zeal to “react” to what were clearly some gross errors in Leiter’s attack, I ignored the important point that Leiter’s accusations are unrelated to the central argument of my Note. This was unfortunate because it focused the resultant debate on the empirical status of ID. While the empirical issues are indeed critically important to the ID/evolution debate, and should be carefully evaluated, my Note eschewed this already well-trodden ground to look instead at a more fundamental question – one that relies not at all on the empirical status of ID.

Following the traditional format of student book reviews in law journals, my Note has three parts: a short introduction, a synopsis of the book being reviewed, and an “analysis.” The analysis is the only part in which the book review author may appropriately make a distinct argument or unique contribution. In my Book Note, which was strictly limited to 8 pages, approximately one page is introduction, five pages relate Beckwith’s book, and two pages constitute my “analysis.”

Interestingly, Leiter’s attack focused on my introduction. The purpose of the introduction, however, is simply to capture the reader’s attention and “set up” the rest of the review – it is a hook, not a freestanding argument. Even if I did see fit to attack ID the way Leiter imagines, it wouldn’t be in the introduction, where detailed empirical research would be structurally inapposite. As it is, the introduction is quite short, and clearly indicates that my Note addresses a philosophical question of constitutional significance, not an empirical one. The thesis sentence, found at the end of my introduction paragraph, states this fairly clearly: “However, while a principled constitutional analysis would suggest permitting the presentation of ID in schools [this from Beckwith’s book], the linchpin of the movement’s success likely turns on better educating relevant legal actors about the practical relationship between evolution and MN” (emphasis added).

What Leiter apparently took umbrage at is that I didn’t, in the introduction, provide a detailed caveat listing the grievances methodological naturalists have with ID’s scientific claims. Yet even as it stands, I indicate in the introduction that ID is a minority position. The reason I neither provide nor respond to empirical critiques of ID is that such analysis would not only grossly exceed the 8-page scope of the review, but would also distract from the central contention of my Note.

In Leiter’s initial attack on my Note, the only thing remotely related to the actual argument in my Note was Leiter’s comment that “one line” from the “polemical Richard Dawkins” does not indicate that evolution has an a priori commitment to Methodological Naturalism. This is false on several fronts. First, regarding the a priori commitment to MN, it is widely accepted by non-ID philosophers of science that Leiter is simply wrong. As I previously noted, John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, has unequivocally stated: “A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism ….” In fact, I could have included quotes from Churchland, Hull, Searle, Flew, Crick, Rachels, Futuyama, Strickberger, and P. Z. Meyers, to name just a few thinkers who understand evolutionary theory as applied materialism.

Leiter’s comments in this regard reveal a palpable ignorance . The number of works that have addressed the issue of philosophical presuppositions and non-scientific understandings on the formation and maintaining of scientific theories is enormous. If he had even perused Dr. Beckwith’s book he would have come in modest contact with some of the leading lights in this literature including Larry Laudan, a philosopher of science who is currently on the faculty at the University of Texas and whose greatness Leiter himself extols (see http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000806.html).

However, my quote from Richard Dawkins (along with quotes from six other evolutionary pundits Leiter neglected to mention) wasn’t simply to make the prosaic and uncontested point (or at least, uncontested by any save Leiter, apparently) that MN underlies science, but to make the more subtle point that “evolution as conceived by many of its most influential and vocal proponents clearly implicates naturalistic philosophy.” This is interesting precisely because in past creationist cases (most notably McLean), it was association with outspoken religious proponents that constitutionally doomed the teaching of creationism as much as did the content of creationism itself. Beckwith argues that this “genetic fallacy” of associating a movement with its vocal spokespeople is wrong, and I think he is right, but my “addition” (if I may be so bold) to Beckwith’s analysis is a pragmatic one: until relevant legal actors begin to recognize that the genetic fallacy evenly applied might knock evolution out of schools, they probably won’t recognize how mistaken it is to apply the genetic fallacy as a principle of constitutional jurisprudence to other contenders. Until ostensibly neutral judicial actors realize that the high priests of evolution are no less evangelical than the high priests of its competitors, they will give legal weight to ad hominem arguments of the sort Leiter has been mustering.

Once this central argument of my Note is recognized, it is fairly obvious why I wouldn’t spend precious pages investigating the scientific merits or failings of ID as Leiter apparently craved. That’s not what my Note is about. It’s not even relevant. The important question whether ID is empirically valid is conceptually separable from whether ID should be excluded a priori simply by applying some variation of the genetic fallacy. ID will never get a fair consideration on the merits until the genetic fallacy has been debunked. My Note (and Beckwith’s book to a certain extent) concentrates on addressing this issue – not the empirical one. So while I still insist that many of Leiter’s critiques regarding ID’s empirical evidence and its acceptability were flat out false at worse (“exactly two credentialed scientists” and his misunderstanding the relationship between science and MN) and misleading at best (leaving out my “small” characterization and erroneously applying my “significant controversy” to scientists), the fact is that they are irrelevant to my Note’s argument.

My concern is that precisely by bypassing my critique of the genetic fallacy, Leiter has succeeded in waging the empirical argument on uneven ground: readers steeped in the anti-ID propaganda of the high priests of evolution will simply discount or outright disregard any empirical evidence provided by ID scientists. Thus, Leiter relies on the very fallacy on which my article was focused, while attacking empirical claims that were outside the scope of the Note. While I suspect that Leiter’s subterfuge in this regard was simply second nature and not deliberate, it is nevertheless fortuitively illustrative of exactly the problem my Note meant to address.

I hope that by presenting this argument, I will be able to move at least some of the discussion on my Note towards its actual content. It may well be that I am no less pompous, dishonest, ignorant, and incompetent in arguing against the “genetic fallacy” – but Leiter could at least do me the courtesy of damning me for what I wrote, rather than for what I didn’t.

Comment #69

Posted by PZ Myers on March 24, 2004 7:20 PM (e)

Jebus. Did I just see my name listed along with Churchland, Hull, Searle, Flew, Crick, Rachels, Futuyama, and Strickberger? I blush.

Despite all the flattery, though, you continue to make the same errors. Your genetic fallacy argument is all wet; while all of the actors behind ID (and even the language of their documents) reveal a strong religious bias, you won’t find the complementary bias within science. Scientists are christians, moslems, buddhists, atheists, you name it. You cannot claim that an even application might knock out evolution.

You are also mistaken to claim that the main argument against ID is that its main proponents are all religiously motivated. The science is eminently relevant, because the reason we argue that ID should not be taught in the science classroom is that it is not science. If somebody were lobbying to legislate the teaching of how to write sonnets in the biology classroom, we would also be against that, not because it’s driven by a bunch of damn silly poets (and many of us even like poetry), but because it isn’t science.

Comment #70

Posted by Allan on March 24, 2004 7:33 PM (e)

Another link from Calpundit.

Good idea. Good luck.

Comment #71

Posted by Steve Reuland on March 24, 2004 7:39 PM (e)

Mr. VanDyke, surely you know (and surely so does Beckwith) that the creationists tried your very same gambit in the Edwards case (or was it McClean?) and it backfired miserably. The Supreme Court has already ruled on whether or not evolution is religious, and have found that it is not. And when the creationists tried to argue that they would be giving “balance” to the supposed atheism of evolution, that totally undermined their pretense to religious neutrality.

What exactly makes you think they’ll be fooled by what is essentially the exact same line of reasoning this time around?

And on a more ironic note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Surpremes conclude that ID is creationism because the IDists even use the same damn legal arguments, nevermind the basically identical “scientific’ ones.

Comment #72

Posted by A philosopher of science on March 24, 2004 7:41 PM (e)

Forgive me for noting that, as with everything else, what VanDyke says about philosophy of science, methodological naturalism, and the views of the great Larry Laudan are all inaccurate. The poor boy just doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. But the grad students here in Austin are getting a great laugh out of it all!

Comment #73

Posted by PZ Myers on March 24, 2004 7:47 PM (e)

Austin doesn’t get all the laughs. We’re chortling up here in Minnesota, too. I’m sure Mr VanDyke has a great career ahead of him – I wonder if Bob Jones U is hiring?

Comment #74

Posted by John Wilkins on March 24, 2004 8:05 PM (e)

Mr VanDyke

First of all, at least one person - David Hull - would be very careful not to identify evolution as materialism. If you can quote David, who is a friend, on this, I will happily get his response.

Second, when discussing historical movements, it is not a genetic fallacy to discuss its origins. Of course, the idea would have the same validity if it were in the Bible, the Vedas or on my breakfast cereal packets, but that is not the point. We have only those who publish the ID idea to go by - unlike science, there is no actual work we can judge. The notion of ID has relied on vague analogies and arguments from authority since Paley - when we are considering what to pursue in science out of the effectively infinite domain of possible approaches, the origins of an idea are a good rule of thumb to apply.

Methodological naturalism merely means that the methods used to gather information about the world rely on natural processes - as Hume observed, we assume that the world works much the same way in every case (William Whewell can be found to say the same thing). To abandon that now would be to abandon science. If there could be a miracle at any point, there would no longer be science. If you have a coherent alternative, then I wish to hell you and the IDevotees would present it.

And to reiterate something IDevotees want to obfuscate again and again, methodological naturalism is not “philosophical” (that is, metaphysical naturalism. There is absolutely no presumption in anyone’s science that the material world is all there is. But science is based on the assumption that only the natural world can be investigated. You show us otherwise…

Comment #76

Posted by C.E. Petit on March 24, 2004 8:16 PM (e)

When I first started practice, I worked for a firm doing consumer protection litigation. Thus, I suggest that principles of false advertising require that Intelligent Design change its name to avoid deceiving the public. <SARCASM> Admittedly, “creationism” has a bad name, and might be unfairly prejudicial. </SARCASM> So I propose the more-accurate “Inscrutable Design.” It keeps the same initials, it gets the beloved “design” into the name, and it accurately expresses (by both denotation and connotation) the substance of the conjecture—and the argumentation tactics of its proponents.

Comment #80

Posted by Steve Reuland on March 24, 2004 8:22 PM (e)

PZ writes:

You are also mistaken to claim that the main argument against ID is that its main proponents are all religiously motivated. The science is eminently relevant, because the reason we argue that ID should not be taught in the science classroom is that it is not science.

I agree that this is the primary reason to object to teaching ID in science class, but for the purposes of Establishment Clause jurisprudence, the “primary effect of advancing religion” will be the deciding factor. It’s not against the Constitution (though it should be, damn it!) to teach shitty science in science class. One hopes that in a democracy, the electorate won’t stand for it, but one has to put a lot of faith in how scientifically informed the electorate is, and we know how that goes.

But anyway, apparently lacking any reasonable defense against the fact that ID was invented primarily to advance religion (which has documentary evidence a mile wide), Beckwith’s approach is to formulate a tu quoque argument and to claim that the purpose for teaching evolution is also to advance relgion. (I’ve read the article he pubilshed in the Notre Dame Law Review (I think that was it), but I haven’t read his book; but from what I understand, and from having read VanDyke’s comments, the arguments are identical.) Problem is, and this is where Beckwith’s scholarship deserves a Leiter mauling, he bases his case on quote-mining a handful of people like Richard Dawkins, apparently oblivious to the fact that there actually exists a massive body of empirical science out there concerning evolution, which can be found in hundreds of journals and has been defended as good science by pretty much every major science organization in existence. If Beckwith really wanted to know what the “major proponents” of evolution were really trying to push, what he should have done was to open any one of hundreds of scientific journals that have articles published every month about evolution, noted what the authors meant by “evolution” (note to Beckwith: they don’t mean a naturalistic origin of the universe), and noted whether or not they were promoting atheism. He would have found, of course, that there is no discussion of religious issues in those journals, and that actual research was being presented and discussed.

Again, this is all settled law as far as the courts are concerned. They’ve already done that exercise, and they came down on the side of common sense. I forget again which case it was, but the Supreme Court has rejected the argument that evolution is a religious concept, and therefore public school teachers can’t refuse to teach it because they think it violates their 1st Amendment rights. If Beckwith wants to use these arguments when going before the Supreme Court, he better hope that at least three justices retire before next January.

Comment #84

Posted by Jim D on March 24, 2004 9:06 PM (e)

Another referral from friendly CalPundit/Drum/Pol. Animal.

I was initially somewhat interested in ID as an undergrad, but then got around to actually looking into it’s claims against evolution. I guess between that and the fact that every seminar at UT discussing ID usually involved a lecture from a self-described “Christian biologist” – what, do Christians have different biologies than the rest of us? – that I kind of wrote it off as creationism with academic pretensions.

It’s too bad that the principles of ID haven’t been applied to the physical sciences.

I imagine intelligent geology would let us get beyond silly uniformitarian assumptions and help us answer the burning question, “Who put this rock here?” (note capital W Who).

Intelligent astronomy would probably posit that stellar evolution theories must be wrong because the stars are too pretty to have made themselves, and gravity is self-contradictory.

OK, enough snark. Best of luck all around.

Comment #86

Posted by eon on March 24, 2004 9:14 PM (e)

Please forgive the cross-post from Ed’s blog:

From VanDyke’s post:

“[T]he linchpin of the movement’s success likely turns on better educating relevant legal actors about the practical relationship between evolution and MN.” [that is, evolution specifically, and science in general, proceed from Methodological Naturalism]

“[E]volution as conceived by many of its most influential and vocal proponents clearly implicates naturalistic philosophy.” [that is, evolution both assumes and requires “naturalistic philosophy”]


Mr. VanDyke quotes Beckwith, who in turn parrots Philip Johnson’s pet argument that a commitment to methodological naturalism (MN) leads inexorably to a commitment to philosophical or ontological naturalism (ON). This is so, Johnson would say, because a commitment to MN excludes the possibility of considering “evidence” for the supernatural, which in turn leads to an a priori rejection of supernaturalism in general (Darwin on Trial; Defeating Darwinism; Objections Sustained; The Wedge of Truth).

This is the Wedgies’ party line: that because philosophers of science (and scientists, generally) state forthrightly that science cannot, by definition, investigate supernatural events, that they also commit of necessity to the non-existence of supernatural phenomena, a priori.

Whether the MN / ON distinction is logically justifiable, however, we’re talking about personal and institutional commitments here, not whether the adherents to those commitments can justify them. That’s the bait-and-switch to which Johnson, Beckwith, and now VanDyke want their readers fall victim: if judges and legislators buy into the argument that scientists hold to the notion that MN is equivalent to ON, they can persuade the lawgivers to accept the proposition that MN requires a philosophical commitment to “naturalistic philosophy,” which they equate to atheism.

And, of course, atheism constitutes a position on religion, which the government may not assume by the dictates of the First Amendment. (Nevermind that the DI also espouses an alternative interpretation of the Establishment Clause.)

If the electorate competently understands the distinction between MN and ON, on the other hand, Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) is dead in the water: the Discovery Institute and their Harvard Law Review apologists cannot constitutionally insinuate IDC into public school science curricula unless science itself demands a quasi-religious commitment. If it doesn’t, then lawmakers are free to distinguish between the those things within purview of science, and everything outside of that boundary.

If that happens, the vacuous philosophy, derived from Paley and embodied in IDC, is not constitutionally entitled to “equal time.”

The pro-IDC argument in this regard compels me to conclude, as does Mr. Leiter, that Mr. VanDyke has in fact been both intellectually dishonest and logically incompetent. In context, the so-called “Genomic Fallacy” should be regarded as an invalidity only at such time that any one of IDC’s proponents offers an argument that is not so sublimely fatuous.

Comment #99

Posted by Matt Inlay on March 25, 2004 12:58 AM (e)

two things:

1. MN does not entail PN, as many have already pointed out. just ask any scientist who is not an atheist.

2. the opposite of natural causation is supernatural causation, not intelligent causation. scientists who subscribe to methodological naturalism rule out, for practical purposes, supernatural causes, but not necessarily intelligent ones. ID can easily be framed within a natural context (e.g. panspermia). the problem is whether or not it can be fruitfully studied.

Comment #104

Posted by PZ Myers on March 25, 2004 5:02 AM (e)

You can also ask many of us scientists who are atheists, and we’ll give you the same answer.

Comment #110

Posted by Sarah Berel-Harrop on March 25, 2004 6:18 AM (e)

VanDyke has misspelled that Mairze fellow’s
name! He also misspelled “ontological
naturalism”. Howard van Till’s “Right Stuff
Universe” in Perspectives on Science and the
Christian Faith, December 2002, provides a
nice summary of Intelligent Design, why it is
a form of episodic creationism, and what’s
wrong with this accusation of the “naturalistic
bias” of science.

Comment #138

Posted by emjaybee on March 25, 2004 10:29 AM (e)

Came over from Kevin’s link–what a great blog! I will be back, despite the fact that some of this is definitely over my head (thanks to my liberal arts education…). But I enjoy trying to keep up all the same.

I was raised fundamentalist, and ID types would always come to our church, to decry the oppressive science teachers who wanted us to learn evolution. Back then, I thought it was silly on theological grounds. If there was a God, and he/she presumably made our brains, and evolution is what millennia of honest scientific effort have brought out of our brains, what’s the harm? Their God seemed awfully touchy about the subject, which didn’t seem to behoove a presumably all-wise/ all-forgiving deity. So I just went about my business. Too bad more people don’t do the same.

Comment #153

Posted by Matt Inlay on March 25, 2004 12:40 PM (e)

PZ wrote, “You can also ask many of us scientists who are atheists, and we’ll give you the same answer.”

i didn’t mean to imply otherwise. sorry if i didn’t make that clear. somehow, though, i don’t think people like van dyke would believe any atheists. do you get that feeling?

Comment #227

Posted by Roger Bigod on March 26, 2004 9:00 AM (e)

My concern is that precisely by bypassing my critique of the genetic fallacy, Leiter has succeeded in waging the empirical argument on uneven ground: readers steeped in the anti-ID propaganda of the high priests of evolution will simply discount or outright disregard any empirical evidence provided by ID scientists.

“Your Honor, I have evidence that totally establishes my client’s case. However, I refuse to present it, since the jury is obviously so steeped in the propaganda of the other side that they will discount or outright disregard it. Therefore, I move for a directed verdict for my client, after which we can discuss presentation of evidence.”