Friday, January 13, 2006

The philosophy of design

Now that Jeff Lowder has started his own blog, I’ll seize the opportunity, as the occasion presents itself, from time to time, to offer some friendly commentary. Having known Jeff since college, I’ll try my best not to let my claws show. My ferocious reputation notwithstanding, I do have retractable claws.

For his part, Jeff is, of course, more than welcome, with or without claws, to return the favor by commenting on my comments.

On his blog, Jeff refers the reader to a sister site. Following the link, an article by James Still caught my eye:


Well it’s old news now. Parents have filed a lawsuit against the El Tejon Unified School District because the Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, is slipping an intelligent design course into its curriculum. Entitled "Philosophy of Design," the district's attorneys told the school board that "as the course was called 'philosophy,' it could pass legal muster."

ID proponents are trying to frame this maneuver as perfectly legal because it's a philosophy course and not a science course…Obviously, the very thin disguise is an attempt to get around the ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover in which Jones ruled that ID does not belong in science class.

Of course this sneaky tactic is doomed from the start. Their mistake is in thinking that Kitzmiller v. Dover narrowly applies to what can be taught in science class. But that wasn't what Judge Jones ruled.

It's pretty clear that ID is not allowed in a public school in any capacity because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Since ID cannot decouple itself from its religious roots it will always be religious content. You could teach it during dodgeball class in the gym and it would still be unconstitutional. This is bad news for the ID intelligentsia, like Dembski and Richards, who have been telling people to treat ID strictly as science so that it will pass constitutional muster.


By way of comment:

1.As a general matter, I agree with Still that Christians sometimes play semantic games to skirt SCOTUS rulings, viz. the Ten Commandments as a “historical” rather than “religious” document, or Bill O’Reilly’s “philosophy” of Jesus.

2.I regard this tactic as a necessary evil. To begin with, judicial activism has forced the Christian community to make its case on a tilted playing field.

In addition, modern jurisprudence is all about semantic quibbles and arbitrary technicalities.

3.While, in this particular case, the classification of ID as “philosophy” may well be a legal ruse, there is a bona fide discipline known as the philosophy of science, and the concept of design can quite properly be discussed as a metascientific issue.

4.I also deny that Dembski et al. have chosen to classify ID as “science” as a legal ploy to skirt SCOTUS rulings.

There is no good reason to suppose that Dembski, Behe, Barr, and Denton, to name a few, don’t regard ID as genuine science.

I realize that many opponents of ID try to recast ID as a Trojan horse to smuggle creationism back into the classroom, but this characterization is demonstrably false.

i) To begin with, it’s demonstrable that the leading proponents of ID are not, as a rule, young-earth creationists who take Genesis literally. They are not fundamentalists.

ii) Moreover, the existence of God is not a presupposition of ID. Rather, the existence of God is an inference from the concept of design, which is, in turn, an inference from the scientific data. ID theory is not “rooted” in religious. The theistic inference is a conclusion rather than a premise of ID reasoning.

iii) Furthermore, the God of ID theory is not a sectarian God, identical with the God of Scripture. Indeed, many conservative Christians have criticized ID theory precisely because of its theological neutrality and ecumenicity.

5.Even if ID were a Trajan horse, to discredit ID on that account commits the genetic fallacy. That is not an intellectually respectable excuse to disregard the actual argumentation of its leading proponents.

6.It is premature to say that ID violates the three-pronged Lemon test. For ID has yet to be adjudicated by SCOTUS, and cases like this often wend their way up to the Supremes.

7.Is Still saying that any course material with “religious content” is unconstitutional? Is it unconstitutional for a high school history teacher to discuss the Pilgrims or the Great Awakening?

8.More to the point, Still’s contention is predicated on certain assumptions of judicial activism which many conservatives reject. He is assuming the right of judicial review, although the Constitution does not, in fact, grant that authority to SCOTUS.

He is also implicitly endorsing the theory of a “living Constitution,” whereby SCOTUS is at liberty to flout original intent. This is a personification run amok.

To say that teaching ID in a public classroom runs afoul of the Establishment Clause is a classic example of judicial revisionism.

The Establishment Clause only applies to the Federal gov’t. (“Congress shall make no law…”), not to the states. The Establishment Clause is all about states’ rights. The whole point of the Establishment Clause was to keep the Feds from meddling in the internal religious affairs of the states. It was a blocking maneuver to prevent the Federal gov’t from establishing a national church along the lines of the Church of England.

However, it left the states free to maintain their own established churches. Indeed, several of the 13 Colonies had established churches, which is why they insisted on the Establishment Clause, in order to preserve the status quo ante.

As far as the Establishment Clause is concerned, a public school teacher could teach full-blown creationism in school.

9.The liberal establishment has tried to rig the game from start to finish:

a) It has twisted the Establishment Clause into a disestablishment clause, wholly subverting original intent.

b) It levies property taxes on Christians to subsidize public schools, but denies the right of Christian parents to have a say in the curriculum.

c) When Christian parents remove their kids from the public schools system in order to home-school them, the liberal establishment tries to prosecute the family for truancy or attempts to impose a secular curriculum on homeschoolers.

d) When Christian parents remove their kids from the public schools in order to educate them in private Christian schools, the liberal establishment insists that they must continue to pay property taxes for the upkeep of the public school system even though the public schools are no longer educating their own children.

Liberals complain that vouchers would divert money from the public schools. True enough. But where is the money going? Shouldn’t the money be following the student? And whose money is it, anyway?

e) Liberals also try to shut down private Christian schools unless they comply with secular accreditation criteria.

There is not the slightest effort to be evenhanded.


  1. It is when reading these type of posts that I feel the weight of darkness upon the earth. Which reminded me of this parable:

    Mat 13:24 He set another parable before them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field,
    Mat 13:25 but while people slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel also among the wheat, and went away.
    Mat 13:26 But when the blade sprang up and brought forth fruit, then the darnel appeared also.
    Mat 13:27 The servants of the householder came and said to him, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where did this darnel come from?'
    Mat 13:28 "He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and gather them up?'
    Mat 13:29 "But he said, 'No, lest perhaps while you gather up the darnel, you root up the wheat with them.
    Mat 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, "First, gather up the darnel, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

    While the people who embrace darkness as light quite often drive me to distraction, I do try to remember that they are unwitting fools for a much larger, more wicked plan.

    And they also, at times, cause me to be thankful for the grace of Elohim through Messiah Yeshua toward one such as myself.


  2. James Still has offered a response to your post, Steve:

  3. So much to correct, so little time . . .

    It was judicial activism that led the Marshal Court to claim, contrary to all the evidence, that the Bill of Rights did not apply against the states, in 1833. Since then we fought a war to correct that misimpression, we passed the 14th Amendment, and we've finally got courts who are returning to the views of the founders at about mid-20th century.

    The First Amendment prevents all governments from declaring a religion contrary to the faith of a citizen.

    But that's gravy. Each and every one of the state constitutions does the same. Since 1778, Americans have granted no government any duty, right or privilege with respect to religion. Since 1778, Americans have created no formal role for any church in their government. It's unlikely they will backtrack now, and God bless those judges who preserve our religious rights. If they are activist judges, God bless activist judges.

    None of the states had established churches after 1778, and only four states had even a vestige. All those vestiges were methodically eliminated. No state had an established church in 1787 when the Constitution was written, nor in 1789 when the First Amendment was written. Had the authors of the First Amendment intended that states should have the ability to establish a church, it would have had to have been explicitly included in the amendment, since such things did not exist, nor did the right. As you know, there is no clause of the First Amendment which authorizes states to establish churches.

    I've heard Dembski describe his religious reasons for backing ID a couple of times, and state that they are superior to his science claims.

    But we're willing and ready to take any serious science arguments for ID. As you know, under the Lemon rules, were there science behind intelligent design, religious motivation alone would not stop the teaching of ID.

    Alas for ID, no one has been able to find any science to back it that will stand up to even cursory scrutiny in a federal court with fair rules of evidence.

    The God of ID not being "sectarian" isn't enough to save it from the establishment clause. That clause forbids government from taking the side of a non-sectarian God, even the God of Abraham, against other beliefs and against no beliefs.

    The Lemon test was created by the Supreme Court for lower courts to apply. Judges Jones' court was the trial court, and he correctly applied the Lemon test. That's the best we have until someone gets another case to appeal. That's unlikely, though, because, legally, Judge Jones' decision is very, very tight. Other courts will give it due deference. That's what the Supreme Court did with the Overton decision in the Arkansas case, too -- it was the Louisiana court which accurately applied the reasoning of the Arkansas case. A case does not need to have the approval of the Supreme Court to be valid -- it needs the disapproval of a higher court to make it invalid.

    No, the case does not prohibit learning about religion. The Establishment clause prohibits teaching any one religious view as the correct one. History students may still learn about the Great Awakening.

    As I noted, it's the IDists who wish to flout original intent. It is inconceivable that the founders wished religion to be taught to kids in public schools -- absolutely 180 degrees contrary to the express views of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin, among others.

    It is a pipe dream to think that judicial review does not exist legally in the United States.

    The public school system benefits every citizen in the nation, and that is why everybody pays property taxes to support it. If your neighbor's kid is uneducated, it affects you. You get the benefits of public education especially if you choose to take your kids out. No free rides here -- no work, no eat.

  4. It's a pity that Ed Darrell has not read state constitutions written when the 13 colonies became states. The majority of them required state officials to declare faith in God - indeed, about 1/2 of them required state officials to affirm faith in Jesus Christ. For proof of this statement, feel free to visit Yale's website and look it up. (I'm sure google will be only happy to help). The original constitutions are there for the whole world to read.

    Were these affirmations part of a specific denomination? Not necessarily. But the fact that these affirmations exist seems, to me, to forever silence the bizzare (and modern) notion that states have always been legally required to affirm the god of the atheists at the expense of the religious.