Posted by Jack Krebs on November 14, 2005 11:28 PM

On a local discussion forum in Lawrence, Kansas today, a poster named “Conservativeman” wrote a nice succinct summary of the main arguments presented by the Intelligent Design advocates (IDists) at the Kansas “science” hearings last May, and of those arguments incessantly put forth by ID leader John Calvert.

It may be that I am being too repetitious in my posts here at the Panda’s thumb, making the same points over and over. However, I think these points may become critical in case the Kansas situation goes to court, so for me I think it’s worth my while (if not the readers) to try to get as clear of an understanding of the fundamental religious argument that is being made by the IDists in Kansas.

Conservativeman wrote,

The problem is that an “Evolution Only,” policy is not really scientific or constitutional. It is not scientific because it is officially biased rather than scientifically objective. Because it is biased, it is not religiously neutral. Evolution Only effectively requires our children to “know” that we come from a natural rather than an intelligent cause, that we are occurrences and not designs, and that we naturally arise without purpose from a purposeless process. It effectively teaches that no rational evidentiary basis exists for theistic beliefs. Evolution Only converts these scientific claims into dogmas that are the fundamental tenets of non-theistic religions and that directly contradict the fundamental tenets of theistic religions. Accordingly, in my opinion, Evolution Only is not “secular” or neutral. Rather it is an ideology that directly conflicts with the First Amendment rights of parents and students.

This argument is quite wrong in a number of fundamental and important ways – ways that may eventually be settled in a court case. I’d like to respond to these points a few lines at a time.

Conservativeman:

The problem is that an “Evolution Only,” policy is not really scientific or constitutional. It is not scientific because it is officially biased rather than scientifically objective.

By protesting “evolution only”, the IDists are really protesting that the theory of evolution is taught as solid, fundamental mainstream science; and that science is, as the good (and now rejected) Kansas science standards say, “the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us.” This is the definition of science the IDists have taken out because they want the possibility of supernatural explanations (design) to be considered as real science.

The theory of evolution is “biased” only in the sense that science itself is “biased”: science limits itself to explanations that are testable through empirical means. Science disentangled itself from metaphysical explanations about 500 years ago, a move that has proven to be quite successful. The only “bias” science has is a bias towards sticking to a method that has worked rather than resorting to a return to medieval modes of thinking.

Cman then writes,

Because it is biased, it is not religiously neutral. Evolution Only effectively requires our children to “know” that we come from a natural rather than an intelligent cause, that we are occurrences and not designs, and that we naturally arise without purpose from a purposeless process. It effectively teaches that no rational evidentiary basis exists for theistic beliefs.

This statement confuses scientific knowledge with metaphysical belief, and in doing so it creates a false dichotomy between that idea that something can be explained by natural causes and the idea that something was caused by God. Millions of Christians and other religious people do not accept this dichotomy because they believe that God acts through natural causes.

So when students are taught any scientific explanation (not just evolution), they are not being taught, explicitly or implicitly, that God wasn’t involved. Teaching the theory of evolution does not imply to students that they arose “without purpose from a purposeless process.”

This argument is the Wedge in action: if you are really for God you will reject science. However, this argument is proven false by the religious beliefs of millions who do not believe that causes are either natural or “designed,” but rather believe that both nature and God are involved because God acts through natural causes: many agree with St, Augustine that “nature is what God does.”

Conservativeman concludes by writing,

Evolution Only converts these scientific claims into dogmas that are the fundamental tenets of non-theistic religions and that directly contradict the fundamental tenets of theistic religions. Accordingly, in my opinion, Evolution Only is not “secular” or neutral. Rather it is an ideology that directly conflicts with the First Amendment rights of parents and students.

No. Science does not take a stand on these theological perspectives because science can’t. Science in general, nor the theory of evolution in particular, does not “contradict the fundamental tenets of theistic religions.” Science may contradict some people’s beliefs about the world: science stands strongly behind the claims, for instance, that the earth is over 4 billion years old and that all life is related through biological common descent. But science does not contradict the theistic beliefs of millions who accept the findings of science about the physical world and find those findings no threat to their beliefs about the spiritual world.

Conservativeman, and the ID movement in general, are really fighting philosophical materialism and atheism. They have made science, and evolution in particular, the target of this battle, but they are wrong to do so.

Conservativeman says that science is “an ideology that directly conflicts with the First Amendment rights of parents and students.”

This is the point that may eventually settled in the courts. My claim is that our school Board may well be in violation of the Establishment clause because they have based decisions about our science standards on the argument put forth here by Conservativeman: that science is atheistic. In doing so they have advanced a particular religious perspective (that it is either nature or God that acts) and rejected another religious perspective (that it is nature and God that acts.) In doing so, it is the Board that that has violated the First Amendment, not those who want to teach science while remaining neutral on theological issues.