Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A funny thing happened on the way to the laboratory: Another example of how the process is rigged against Intelligent Design

If there was ever any doubt that the process for determining the legitimacy of Intelligent Design is rigged against it, that doubt seems now to have been dispelled.

Recently, Baylor University, an allegedly Baptist university, went back on agreement with William Dembski that would have allowed him to participate with one of its faculty members in a research project on information theory that had implications for the other theory that Dembski has made famous, and of which he is the best known exponent: Intelligent Design.

The project would have cost Baylor nothing, since the project was being funded by a grant from the Lifeworks Foundation. The grant was processed through the normal administrative channels at the school, and Baylor President John Lilley signed off on it. Then, about a month later, Dembski was called in to the office the Dean of Baylor’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, under whose auspices the research was to be done, and told the whole thing was off. Something about the "good of the department."

Dembski, who taught at Baylor from 1999-2005, gives on his website the whole seedy chronology of the actions of the Indian givers at Baylor who didn't actually have to give anything except their consent--and did, only to go back on their word.

There are two stories here: the first being that this is the same institution of higher indoctri..., excuse me, learning, that tried to run off Francis Beckwith, in part, at least, because he publicly advocated the legal case against excluding Intelligent Design from scientific discussions in public schools. The school finally had to back down in the Beckwith case on account of his formidable body of published scholarly work that, in another circumstance, would have had university officials beating down his door to hire him. Its handling of the Beckwith case became a public embarrassment to Baylor, as well it should.

But there is a more significant aspect to this case.

The opponents of Intelligent Design have for several years now deployed as their chief argument against it that the theory lacks research to support it. But a funny thing always happens on the way to the laboratory--or on the way to the publisher. Baylor's action takes its place alongside another recent event that shows just how determined are the scientific establishment in particular and the academic gatekeepers in general to squelch any critical reconsideration whatsoever of Darwinism.

The first was the treatment of Richard Sternberg, the editor of a publication of the Smithsonian Institutes's National Museum who published a peer-reviewed article which came to positive conclusions about Intelligent Design. The article's publication set off the academic equivalent of the Inquisition among the scientific community. Sternberg was personally vilified, his motives impugned, and his reputation besmirched--all because he had the temerity to take his colleagues at their word.

For years critics within the scientific community have been challenging Intelligent Design proponents to get their papers published in peer-reviewed journals. But when Sternberg actually let it happen, they came down on the perpetrator like a hammer. Put up or shut up, Intelligent Design scholars are told, but when they actually go to trouble of putting up, they are told to shut up.

Now we know where Lucy got the idea of snatching the football away just before Charlie Brown got a chance to kick it. The scientific establishment demands that Intelligent Design prove itself, but at the same time will do everything in its power to prevent it from getting the opportunity to do so.

The recent incident at Baylor is of the same genus. We are constantly hearing about the lack of research support for Dembski's theory. So you would think, in the interest of open scientific inquiry, that the same academic community that has been calling for Intelligent Design to prove itself would be supportive of actually seeing it get the opportunity.

Think again.

The opponents of Intelligent Design need to get together and decide whether they really want to give the theory a fair shake. If the scientific community chooses instead to stonewall every opportunity for the theory's proponents to prove it legitimate, then there will be no question why it happened--and it won't be because of any inadequacy in the theory.

If the critics want to say that the theory fails the test of science, then they're going to have to allow it to be tested scientifically. To tell Intelligent Design advocates that they must prove their theory scientifically, but that, at the same time, they will be systematically denied the means and the opportunity of doing so is hardly model behavior for a group of people who make such a show of objectivity and openmindedness.


R0b said...

Baylor has not hindered the project one bit, nor do they have the power to do so. Lifeworks can still fund Marks' and Dembski's efforts, and maybe they are. (If not, I wonder why not?) Baylor has simply refused to be connected with the project, even by implication.

Note that Dembski and Marks have been working on this for more than two years, and have yet to come up with anything of substance. The three papers they've produced are useless, except for conning their more gullible readers. If their work never gains any traction, it's not because someone is squelching it -- it's because it has no merit.

Martin Cothran said...

Okay, let me see if I've got this straight: a scientific theory is only allowed two years to prove itself?

Is that applicable to all scientific theories, or just the ones we don't like?

Anonymous said...

Notice what "secondclass" does here. He claims that the work of Dembski and Marks has no "substance," though he does not tell us why. He merely stipulates.

Seconclass writes:
"The three papers they've produced are useless, except for conning their more gullible readers. If their work never gains any traction, it's not because someone is squelching it -- it's because it has no merit."

Perfectly circular argument, one befitting of someone of this ilk: no evidence in principle can count against academic suppression by Darwinists since all such evidence is always evidence of the failure of the opposition's views rather than the suppression of academic liberty.

It is a nice, tidy, little series of stipulations. Unfortunately, it is logically fallacious.

Martin, perhaps Mr. Secondclass should pick up your Logic book.

Anonymous said...

Oh, enough with the phony drama: it doesn't take much of anything to at least _propose_ some research program, and the ID movement could easily find the money for it at the drop of a hat. No one in science is artificially holding them back from doing any of this. But utterly regardless of whether it's ID or not, universities and grant-writers are not going to fund a project unless they are given some explicit line of research or program. All people like Dembski have offered is "I'll sit in my easy chair and complain about Darwinism, or run some rough sums that have only tangential relation to chemistry and call it a day."

The problem ID has is still fundamental: their "theory" is based on the idea of avoiding making testable claims that could falsify their explanation. With that already decided, there is nowhere for their research to go: science is premised on the idea of having testable claims to confirm or disconfirm, not a "saws-all" explanation that can fit ANY set of facts.

Characteristically, all of the supposed ID research is thus aimed not at establishing a research program for ID itself, but simply trying to make up arguments that they think will refute evolutionary theory.

But of course, creationists have been trying to do that for more than a century... and there's no particular need to put those efforts under the banner of ID: they do nothing insofar as making ID a viable scientific endeavor, even if they were successful at poking a major hole in evolution... which they have so far failed to do, like all the rest.

Colm said...

Erm, Bad, ID Theory requires that the Theory of Evolution be at least partially true; it only rejects some neo-Darwinian concepts that are not universally held by all biologists, much less all scientists involved in some way with evolutionary research.

In any case, many scientific theories rely upon untestable hypotheses - including large branches of evolutionary theory.

Martin Cothran said...


Have you actually looked at the research proposal Dembski and Marks submitted? Or are you, as we have seen so many times, simply dismissing ID before you give it a hearing?

This is what is so dismaying about the scientific response to ID: time and time again, ID critics refuse to even deal with the arguments. They have counted out Intelligent Design a priori. A philosopher is allowed to do that, but not a scientist.

The scientific argument is not that ID IS not true; it is that it CAN'T be true. It is dismissed without its case even being heard. I can't think a more unscientific response than this.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious: do all scientific theories deserve funding and serious consideration by academics? For example, does ufology deserve a fair shake? After all, there is many times more evidence for alien abductions than for the theses for intelligent design. What of the neo-chronologists? Should we take seriously the claim that ancient history is a medieval fabrication? Perhaps we should exercise some discretion in what theories deserve serious reflection.

Martin Cothran said...


I suppose it depends on what you mean by "ufology". Would you say, for example, that research into the existence of extraterrestrial life is unwarranted? I don't personally believe in extraterrestrial life (even though I know of lot people who I am sure are on your side of this who do, despite having absolutely no evidence for it), but I wouldn't say it isn't a scientific question worth investigating--and apparently there are quite a number of people who take your position who would say the same thing.

I can just imagine what it must have been like for a German scientist who was questioning the very nature of space and time to have to jump over the hurdles you want to put up in the way of scientific research.

Anonymous said...

Programs like SETI have little to do with Ufology, which is a pseudo-science. Your argument seems to be that scientific breakthroughs have come from people who were marginalized by mainstream science... which is true of course. But be consistent, if you are going to use that argument, you should be calling for any pseudoscience to be taken seriously, not just intelligent design.

Of course, a more reasonable position might be that there should be some form of quality control, which would rule out intelligent design as science.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Askew said...

From a distance it looks as though Baylor wants to retain its membership in the "Cool kids' club," and That Hideous Strength is growing ever closer to our world!