Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

My take on Dover

Thanks to John West’s blog, my op-ed on the Dover decision is getting some attention. A couple of people have emailed me the link to this attempt at fisking my piece by Timothy Sandefur, who should be known to a couple of NLT contributors.

I have to say that I’m not persuaded by Mr. Sandefur’s attempt at deconstruction. Here’s the core of his argument:

Knippenberg argues that the argument for design “is an argument from reason,” but of course it is not. Positing a supernatural cause is not an argument from reason, but an argument from faith, since it depends necessarily on an Entity which is beyond nature and beyond comprehension. Still, this is not relevant. The Constitution, after all, does not make a distinction between the state endorsing a religious viewpoint for “religious” reasons as opposed to endorsing a religious viewpoint for purportedly “rational” reasons.

I don’t know where to begin. If you argue rationally that there must have been an uncaused cause, you’re not making a religious argument. And while it’s true that an uncaused cause can’t be explained in "naturalistic" terms (that is, by means of a cause-and-effect sequence), there are philosophical arguments and explanations that don’t simply rely on material and efficient causes. If everything that isn’t science must be religion, then Mr. Sandefur has a very crabbed understanding of how we can rationally attempt to understand the world.

Now, if ID falls into this tradition, which can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, then it’s not simply a religious argument. And if it’s not simply a religious argument--if it’s a rational philosophical argument--then teaching it in the schools, or just mentioning it as an alternative to Darwinism, doesn’t amount to an establishment of religion. If this part of his argument fails, then the rest of his argument fails. The fact that he’s a lawyer and I’m not--of which he makes much--is irrelevant. The fact that he and Judge Jones both don’t give much evidence of understanding philosophy--crucial in this case--points, as I say in my op-ed, to the need for lawyers to be liberally educated (though I don’t mean to say that Hillsdale College didn’t try to provide him with a liberal education).

What think you, gentle readers?

Discussions - 29 Comments

Joe, your interlocutor needs to take my Metaphysics 301 course. I’ll have him do a presentation on Aquinas’s quinque viae.
What would he make of Alvin Plantinga?
The thought that reason=Science=materialistic naturalism is so yesterday’s (discredited) news.

I agree with Mr. Sandefur. What’s being promoted isn’t the teaching of an "uncaused cause" in the biology classroom. What’s being promoted is an intelligent entity that designed and caused everything after it. Sounds quite like religion to me.

Aside from the rational argument you make, there is, I believe, a deeper and more emotional reason for the resistance to allowing even consideration of ID. Few will acknowledge this. But the moment an intelligent designer is granted, it implies the potential for accountability. And if there’s one thing contemporary society desperately longs for it is the avoidance of accountability. At all costs.

I see this even from self-profession "Christians." They scoff at the idea of Intelligent Design. It’s "not science," they cry. Yet to dismiss the fundamental premise of ID -- that there is an original creator -- obviates the very basis of their supposed faith. But this connection seems lost on them. And to point it out brings a quite angry response, rarely thoughtful.

I agree with Paul that reason=science=materialistic naturalism is yesterday’s news.

But I just can’t get interested in intelligent design, although I certainly think it’s crazy to say that teaching it would be UNCONSTITUTIONAL. I hate the implication that the "great human alternatives" are either evolution or intelligent design.

If the Constitution is really neutral on religion, then students have to be told that the case for creation and the case for eternity (the world as its own uncaused cause)are both full of problems from a wholly rational point of view, but one or the other seemingly has to be true. If the Constitution is really neutral on religion, then students have to be taught that the case for creation was made neither stronger nor weaker by the apparently partial but quite real explanatory power of the theory of evolution.

Isn’t it better to begin with the fact that no homogeneous theory of evolution can explain much of the human behavior we can see with our own eyes? It can’t even explain the emergence of consciousness itself. It certainly can’t explain why one species has become free enough and unhappy enough to attempt to replace natural evolution with technological or conscious and volitional evolution. The only species smart enough to believe that the Darwinians teach the whole truth are the clearest evidence that they do not.

Evolution surely happened, but the dominant understanding of how it happens, taken too seriously, is a diversion from what we really know about ourselves.

Where is the scientist who suggests that reason = science? As a scientist, I reject that suggestion, as well as I reject the notion that the scientific community promotes that equation. Reason is one tool of philosphy, and it often intersects with science, but they are not at all equivalent. Science is rooted in empiricism, and the scientist is happiest when experience and reason are consistent. When they are not consistent, then the good scientist looks more closely at both reason and experience, as well as at method and potential bias.

Reason, for instance, would tell us that the Chargers beat the Colts, and the Colts beat the Broncos, so the Chargers should beat the Broncos. That is reason, and not science. Experience sometimes shows us that our reasoning is often based on faulty or incomplete appreciation of all the variables and influences at hand.

Intelligent design has no place at all in a scientific classroom, unless and until it enjoys some empirical support. It does not.

Further, to suggest, as Peter L. did, that the theory of evolution cannot explain the evolution of consciousness is simply incorrect. To suggest that the theory of evolution is better characterized by its gaps than by its explanatory power is likewise a terrific distortion of the facts.

He’s certainly not Aquinas or Aristotle, but might I suggest that you look at and read his column No. 292. In my opinion he explains the problem pretty well.


You’re making a perfectly appropriate pedagogical and policy argument about what should go on in the classroom. I might respond by asking whether it’s appropriate to talk about the limits and overall framework of science in a science classroom. Such arguments go on all the time without ever invoking the First Amendment and involving judges.

What "establishment of religion" or national church is being created by the teaching of intelligent design in a local community exactly?

Joe- Yes. I have said in previous comments that ID can, and should be, discussed in the science classroom, but never as a "scientific" alternative. Rather, it represents the kind of view that results from methods and belief systems other than science. In a similar way, a political scientist might teach about differences among disciplines (Poli Sci vs Sociology vs armchair governing) and then about different perspectives within Political Science.

To borrow from Witgenstein, we can discuss differences between the game of Chess and the game of Checkers, and we can also discuss different strategies and moves within the game of Chess.

Moving back to the classroom, discussions about ID belong in discussions about differences between science and other Belief Systems, not in different perspectives within the scientific community.

If we extend my discussion into the church, I would also add that discussions about Mendelian genetics vs Lamarkian theory do not belong in a Sunday School class about John’s and Mathew’s versions of the life of Jesus.

Finally, I want to reiterate that any attempt to dismantle the scientific perspective by suggesting that scientists normally equate reason with empiricism is fallacious.

Dear Fung, not to worry: I was only referring to Mr. Sandefur (a lawyer, as I recall - and mighty proud of it). No general statement about contemporary science or scientists was intended.

And Mr. Preston, thanks for the reference. Wilco.

Excellent post, Fung! Between you and Sandefur, I think Mr. Knippenberg’s position has been more than soundly debunked.

This may be arrogance on my behalf (in thinking that all of you would want to know), but I am not the Fred from I don’t agree with his talk about local government involvement in the classroom, nor with the consequences (or lack thereof) he thinks will result. While the questions he would ask the evolutionary scientist seem fine and important, I think it tries to broadly sweep science within the confines of a "reason" that Fung is saying does not properly define science.

J Montgomery, how can you "more than soundly" debunk any position? Since the scientific method aims to establish valid theories supported by empirical evidence, should your process be taught in the classroom?

Uh, Jmont, you might want to throttle back the enthusiasm a bit. If "yea, what he said!" is the best you can do, we are going to suspect you are just Fung’s toady. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?

That’s right, J. If there is one thing Dain can’t stand, it’s a toady. That’s why he bristles so when I refer to him as one of Bush’s Bubbas. Why else would he call Bush’s detractors "traitors?" Every attack dog needs a handler, doesn’t it?

Fred - The phrase "more than soundly" was a hyperbolic rhetorical flourish, not meant to be parsed literally. Here’s the part you’re just chompin’ at the bit to hear, then: YOU ARE RIGHT. Something actually CAN’T be done "more than soundly." I expect you’ll be equally critical the next time an NLT blogger uses a phrase like "quite thoroughly," which is equally redundant. Lastly, if you wish to distinguish yourself from Fred Reed of then maybe you should just add your last name - Bills, I presume - to your comments? As it is now, you could be mistaken for Fred Durst, Fred Meyer, Fred Sanford, etc.

Dain - it appears that your "gun has but one bullet...lame sarcasm." But I suppose you fancy it a mighty missile when you wield it, right?

oooohhhhh.... SNAP!

Where is the imperical evidence of evolution?

Hey, Jmont, I may occasionally be sarcastic (you are rubbing off on me, I’m afraid), but lame? I don’t think really isn’t my fault that your "stock" of cultural info (or perhaps your processing speed?) is so sparse as to preclude understanding my comments. Indeed, they are generally profound and on-target. And you really do sound like his cheer-leading squad. Stand up on your own two legs, man, and stop brown-nosing Fung.

Indeed, they are generally profound and on-target."

Does Chris Rock have to remind us that he is funny? Does Arnold need to claim that he has an accent?

Maybe Chris and Ahnold don’t have as many jerks in their audiences?

I think that must be it. If we compare Dain’s audience to those of Chris Rock and Arnold S., then Dain has more jerks in his audience.

Yea, the Hard Left occupies the first two rows, typically. Popcorn?

So now NLT is Dain’s little show, and the rest of us are just members of the audience?

Apparently so, Phil! Please pass the Milk Duds! If Dain can mentally rearrange a web site in this manner, imagine what would happen if he was able to act on his own notions of social engineering! We could trade in our Milk Duds for striped duds, and a number tattoo, a train ride to the gulag, and a nice distant view of our relatives through the barbed wire.

Luckily the correspondence between the real world, and his representation of it, is quite low.

"Profound," Dain?? You are seriously claiming that your comments here are PROFOUND? Where do you get this proclivity for completely shameless self-aggrandizement - Limbaugh?

Fellow NLT’ers, you’ll notice how they come out of the woodwork at my merest suggestion? I think they make my casem for me...which is not that NLT revolves around me (I’m not even a thread starter, so how could it?), only that my "fan club" is made up of these Leftist lunatics. And how’s that for profound, Mr. Pavlov Montgomery? Ding!

Stay tuned for another episode of "Pinky and the Brain."’s just like "whack a mole."

No it is not.

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