31 January 2006

Which religion does ID "establish"?

Okay. Here's the "disclaimer" which caused all the furor:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves."

In reaching his decision Judge Jones treated four issues:

1. Whether an Objective Observer Would Know that ID and Teaching About "Gaps" and "Problems" in Evolutionary Theory are Creationist, Religious Strategies that Evolved from Earlier Forms of Creationism (Opinion, 18 - 36).

On this question we are treated to an historical review of the controversy over evolution going back to the 1920s and 1930s. And, of course, he does find that, in fact, "an objective observer would know that ID and teaching about 'gaps' and 'problems' in evolutionary theory are creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism." I see at least two logical problems here.

First, it ignores the issue of whether there are "gaps" or "problems" with evolutionary theory. Let's say, for purposes of argument, that creationists were the first to talk about gaps and problems with evolution. So what? That in and of itself is irrelevant to the question of whether there are gaps or problems. It is, in fact, a form of ad hominem; it's called a bulverism, an attempt to refute an argument by making a statement about why a person is making the argument. Joe says to John, "There are gaps and problems in the theory of evolution." John responds by saying, "Joe, you only say that because you are a creationist." Seriously, what has Joe's being a creationist have to do with whether there are gaps and problems with the theory of evolution. What if, Joe is a creationist because he first came to believe that there are gaps and problems with evolution? Let's turn things around a bit. John says to Joe, "Evolution is true." Joe responds, "John, you only say that because you are an atheist." The proposition, "Evolution is true" is not refuted by asserting anything about the person stating the proposition. In the same way, Joe's being a creationist is irrelevant to the question of whether there are gaps and problems with the theory of evolution.

The second problem is that, Judge Jones's reasoning here would mean that there could never be any meaningful talk of any gaps or problems with evolutionary theory. Let's say that someone whom even evolutionists recognized as a bona fide scientist (for our purposes, let's say the late Stephen J. Gould) started talking about gaps and problems in evolutionary theory. There could never be any mention of it because, as Judge Jones now informs us, any such talk is a religious strategy that evolved from earlier forms of creationism.

2. Whether an Objective Student Would View the Disclaimer as an Official Endorsement of Religion (Opinion 37 -- 50).


3. 3. Whether an Objective Dover Citizen Would Perceive Defendants’ Conduct to be an Endorsement of Religion (Opinion 50 -- 64)

The answer to these two questions is obvious enough, I suppose. The real problem here is that a constitutional prohibition of establishing a religion (i.e., a specific religion) has been translated into a prohibition of endorsing "religion." And what constitutes "endorsing" religion? Well, whatever the courts say constitutes it.

Note also the absence of specificity. We have gone from Congress's being prohibited from making some (specific!) religion the religion of the land, to every governmental entity in the republic being prohibited from "endorsing" some entity called religion. And what, exactly, is it for something to be a religion? Why, again, whatever the courts tell us it is.

A third problem is, in addition to the aforementioned translation of the constitutional prohibition of establishing a national religion, how the term religion is so obviously re-defined (especially in this present case) to mean just theism. Anything that seems to lend credence to theism counts as an endorsement of "religion." There's just one problem: theism is not a religion ; it is a philosophical school, a position on the philosophical question of the existence of God, in contrast with atheism. There is a second problem: not all religions are theistic, like Buddhism, for example.

I think this last point raises a problem. If teaching ID supports or endorses "religion" because the "intelligence" behind the design must surely be God, then the teaching of evolution must also endorse religion because with its tacit denial of "intelligence" it lends support to non-theism and, by logical extension, non-theistic religions like Buddhism and secular humanism (arguably, of course). Not only that, but since the state is supposed to be neutral with respect to religion, this implies that the state should (a) teach nothing which lends credence to religion and (b) teach nothing which would militate against religion. If so, then evolution is hardly religiously neutral, since it militates against theism, which the courts equate with religion.

Be all that as it may. I am still hard-pressed to understand in just what way allowing the teaching of ID constitutes an endorsement of religion. Which religion does it endorse? Christianity? Judaism? Islam? Hinduism? If so, then how? Merely because ID is consistent with these religions? And why would that be a problem, given that evolution is consistent with (in addition to atheism, which is not a religiously neutral position) a religion like Buddhism?

It begins to look as if the real problem is not endorsement of "religion" but the acknowledgement by the state of any intellectual respectability for theistic "religion." Witholding that acknowledgment is not neutral.

Besides, what the Constitution prohibits is the establishment of a specifically identified religion (i.e., Roman Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Conservative Judaism, etc.), not the vague notion of some "endorsement"of some formless entity called "religion".

Next: Whether ID is science


James Frank Solís said...


You're right about the fact that "if the Bible is just a book, then there is no Creationist position." You at least recognize the important role that (unproven and unprovable) presuppositions play. So perhaps you are correct, and the creationist position stands or falls with the presupposition that the Bible is the word of God. Evolution, on the other hand, is also flawed for it fundamentally relies upon the philosophy of naturalism; if naturalism isn't true then quite possibly neither is evolution. This is the position that I hold.

Interesting tale about that lawyer.

In the 23 years I lived before becoming a Christian and 18 years that I have been a Christian, I have read a lot of "compelling" arguments for the position you mention here. One thing I know about them all: "compelling" is not the same as "unflawed." However, I did try to read this compelling thesis, but the link you provided led me nowhere. Not that it matters much. First, I know something about the author: he has a pride issue. It is a fool's errand to try to be the greatest anything on the planet; it is downright a sin to try to be the greatest Christian on the planet. Secondly, if this author has knowledge that--unequivocally--the Bible is not the word of God, then he must have a deductive argument: all his conclusions follow necessarily from his premises. Now, if his argument is purely deductive, then his presuppositions will become the issue; and since presuppositions are not provable, it may be that his argument is not all that compelling. But I doubt that his argument is purely deductive; the premises for his deductive argument will more than likely be conclusions from inductive arguments. Such conclusions being merely probable, and not unequivocal, I doubt he truly has anything "unquivocal."

But thank you for a comment that, though interesting on its own terms, had absolutely nothing to do with what I wrote about. Ultimately, your comment is irrelevant to the question I was dealing with, which was, again, just which "religion" is established, or "endorsed," by teaching or even just mentioning Intelligent Design.

James Frank Solís said...

Thanks, Lane! Nice to hear from you.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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