Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tolerance towards people who doubt Darwin: So easy, even an educator can do it

That sound you hear is an uproar over in the primate section of the park. Let's go over and see what all the commotion is about ...

Richard Day, who we identified last week as a retired adult male of the species grapheocrates educativus erectus, has responded to my piece on whether we should consider someone's past disbelief of Darwinism as a potentially disqualifying factor for the position of state schools' chief.

Day, one of the most intelligent and reasonable members of the species ever taken into captivity (more than once we have poked at him with a rhetorical stick, and he has responded amiably and with good humor), expresses his appreciation of my fanciful simian metaphors for his profession, but protests that what I have accomplished in the way of humor, I have more than compensated for in the lack of accuracy of my characterization of the search process for the Kentucky Commissioner of Education.

We have taken a notepad in hand and have transcribed from the various vocal utterings and complicated hand movements some of his main points:

First he takes note of the fact that Cheek has changed his view on the subject of human origins, a point, I might add, that I alluded to near the end of my piece. But then he quotes Cheek in regard to the Dover decision:
I concur [says Cheek] fully with the very well-reasoned and well-articulated opinion of the judge in [Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District in [Pennsylvania] that these positions have not led to anything yet that qualifies as science. Deciding precisely what is or is not science is admittedly a bit hard to pin down fully since the demarcation arguments regarding science are still quite robust among professional philosophers of science. The judge found that the [Intelligent Design] views are fundamentally religious (I would also add metaphysical) in nature and do not belong in the science classroom as part of the formal scientific curriculum.
This, says Day, should count as points in his favor. I beg to differ. I fully realize that, among many members of his somewhat effutive species, acknowledgment of the authority of the Dover decision serves as something of a totem. But to call the Dover decision's reasoning on the nature of Intelligent Design and its relation to science "well-reasoned" betrays a lack of understanding either of the decision or of reason itself--or both.

I have pointed out elsewhere the fundamental problems with the reasoning in the key portion of the Dover case:
I had pointed out that Judge John Jones affirmed a blatant contradiction in his opinion. He argues that the alleged unsoundness of the argument from irreducible complexity is a blow to Intelligent Design, since it is "central to ID", and then later argues that even if irreducible complexity were true, it wouldn't confirm ID because it isn't central to it, but "merely a test for evolution, not design."
In other words, not only was the decision not "well-reasoned," it was blatantly contradictory. So we rational animals can be forgiven our suspicions when a candidate for the highest education post in the state--and those expressing opinions on him--can't tell the difference between good reasoning and atrocious reasoning.

Now in my original post on this issue I did not say anything about Cheek's own views on the issue of creationism or Intelligent Design themselves. I was more interested in the clamor among those who presume to be publicly vetting him. But I hardly find Day's defense in this regard convincing.

In fact, one wonders what to make of a group of hominids that champions demonstrably contradictory arguments and then accuses those who pointed these contradictions out as irrational.

But maybe my intellectual standards for the educational community are too high. After all, it is a poorly hidden secret that those with the least amount of learning are the ones running our institutions of learning, and many of us who are accustomed to walking erect have to send our kids to schools which are operated by people who, intellectually speaking, are still walking on all fours. This is obviously a generalization, and one that admits of exceptions for those who, like Day, have achieved a higher evolutionary stage.

Cheek at least has one real Ph.D, some would say two, although one is in education, which is arguably just one of the many modern tentacles of what William James once called, "the Ph.D octopus." But let's not mix metaphors here.

Day asks:
Is it possible that Kentucky’s next education commissioner – if he or she maintained creationist views - might promote programs or act in ways that put the state at odds with the Constitution or established court rulings? Would the state end up wasting time and paying more money to ACLU attorneys?
Heaven forfend that we do anything that could possibly cause the ACLU to sue--anything like, say, standing on our principles. I have always wondered about this argument. Should school districts really just roll over and play dead whenever the ACLU threatens a lawsuit? Does that mean that if Christian groups become as successful at extorting money through lawsuits as the ACLU, that schools should then do the opposite? Does might really make right in the education kingdom? Is this all it takes to send a troop of public education bureaucrats scattering into the trees?

In fact, one wonders, if Dover had gone the other way, would the educational establishment now be enthusiastically implementing laws that allowed for the teaching of Intelligent Design on the grounds that courts had declared it constitutional?

I doubt it. I think they would be throwing coconuts down on anyone who would even hazard the suggestion.

I have no problem with Day hunting around and gathering information on the backgrounds of commissioner candidates. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it--and there's no person with a more prehensile grasp of the issues of Kentucky schools than Day. My problem is with the smelly little orthodoxies (to use a Tom Wolfism) that pervade the public education mentality, such as that anyone with traditional religious views on a subject is potentially unfit for an educational leadership role in our schools.

Day compares Cheek to another commissioner candidate, Michael Sentance, who
once became sufficiently riled up at a youth soccer game that he not only got a yellow card, and a red card, but whatever color he got when he was suspended for the balance of the season. You want dominant male? I give you Michael Sentance.
I don't know about Day, but I kinda' like the spirit this shows. We could do a whole lot worse than a commissioner who would kick butt and take names. I mean, it isn't like we've never seen good coaches who lose their cool in games before. If he had a regular habit of throwing chairs, that's one thing. Or maybe if he was ejected in a game in which he was coaching Kindergarten girls. But getting a red card in a competitive sport? This is unusual? Has Day had kids in competitive middle and high school sports recently?

My chief concern is that Sentance was only red carded once. Day needs to do some more digging. We don't want a milquetoast on our hands.

But then Day notes a difference between Cheek and Sentance:
Sentance immediately acknowledged his mistake, took full responsibility and served his suspension. He followed that up by returning to coaching and behaving himself.
Is this supposed to be analogous to having had what Day admits was a principled objection to the Darwinist theory of human origins? Is this a punishable offense in the Lost World of the educationalists? Does the guy really have to do public penance for it? Is this grounds for declaring someone subhuman?

I'll give this to Day: it is perfectly legitimate for him to criticize a candidate for not coming clean on past indiscretions. My criticism is with the pervasive attitude among his fellow educationytes that considers someone's traditionalist views on human origins as an indiscretion in the first place.


TomH said...

The Dover decision included a disingenuous answer by Pennock about the status of demarcation in philosophy of science, where Pennock implied that philosophy of science used demarcation to distinguish between science and non-science. Pennock also implied that Laudan would have used demarcation to decide that ID wasn't science. Both of these things are false.

The defense attorneys were incompetent on this point since they didn't challenge Pennock to clarify these points.

You've already noted the court's contradictory reasoning.

Martin Cothran said...


I'm not sure I understand you here.

You said that demarcation was not used to distinguish science from non-science. To demarcate means to distinguish. The demarcation debate in the philosophy of science is about distinguishing science from non-science.

But maybe I'm just not seeing your point.

Anonymous said...

I suppose we should also show tolerance towards a, say, state historian who believes the conspiracy theory that all history prior to the Middle Ages was lost, and that monks made it all up.

So what if it rejects the basic ways of doing history, we should be tolerant, right?

TomH said...

I'm not sure I understand you here.

You said that demarcation was not used to distinguish science from non-science. To demarcate means to distinguish. The demarcation debate in the philosophy of science is about distinguishing science from non-science.

But maybe I'm just not seeing your point.

The overwhelming majority view in philosophy of science (excepting possibly Robert Pennock) is that the demarcation problem is intractable. Re-read my post and you should get my meaning.

Art said...

"The defense attorneys were incompetent on this point since they didn't challenge Pennock to clarify these points."


The defense team in the Dover trial was incompetent in almost every way imaginable. It's absolutely no surprise that they seem to have missed a few nuances.

Martin Cothran said...

The irony of Art's last remark is that, if the defense team in Dover was so incompetent (and I don't necessarily dispute that), it makes the ruling that much more questionable.

The incompetence of a defense is one of the most common arguments used that a case was wrongly decided.

In other words, Art seems to be admitting that the Dover decision was not based on the best arguments for Intelligent Design. And if that's the case, then it is not a good decision to point to as a definitive rebuke of ID.


Art said...

Hi Martin,

When I referred to the defense team, I was thinking about the whole package, including the experts that the defense assembled. You know, Behe, Minnich, et al.

I think that the ID defenders at Dover included the very best that the Discovery Institute could assemble. Heck, I am willing to bet that the DI thought that Behe would dazzle the "audience" into amazed agreement. They couldn't see (in spite of the fact that the thrashing had been played out on the internet for the preceding nine years) that their star would be no match for some well-informed and very clever grad students.

That having been said, I would agree with you that the best and brightest that the pro-ID side could muster were incompetent. This just means that the very best defense of ID doesn't amount to much of a hill of beans.

Given these facts, what else was/is an impartial (well, as impartial as a GWB-appointed conservative could be) judge to do?

Lee said...

> that their star would be no match for some well-informed and very clever grad students.

What, specifically, did they do to stymie Dr. Behe?

Anonymous said...

Here is a great site about the Dover case, including transcripts:

Martin Cothran said...

Now there's an objective source.

Art said...

Martin, you imply that NCSE have doctored the Dover transcripts. Care to share your evidence with your readers?

Martin Cothran said...


Where did I say NCSE doctored the transcripts?

Art said...

Durned. So you weren't being sarcastic. Maybe I can tell Josh Rosenau that NCSE has a new benefactor.

TomH said...

Art, sure sounded to me too like Martin made an ad hominem. :-) Tricky, tricky...

Art, the DI wasn't behind the lawsuit (in fact, it opposed it) and didn't put on a full court press. Also, one of the plaintiffs' witnesses (Robert Pennock) was disingenuous and received scorn from the philosophical community for his deception. Martin has already noted the judge's contradictory reasoning. Your implication that the DI put on its best show and that the outcome was somehow predictable appears disingenous. Your lack of charity (in a philosophical sense) is underwhelming.

I highly recommend the anthology, "But Is It Science," by Michael Ruse, to get an excellent rundown on the key elements of the case, including the philosophical background and philosophical response to the philosophical testimony in the case.

I have found that "scientists" frequently think that they are very good at philosophy of science, when in fact they are laughably incompetent, but they are so incompetent that philosophers don't bother to correct them. This occurs among both YEC and evo "scientists" with about the same frequency. (BTW, I have earned degrees in both chemistry and physics, so I am not against the investigation of nature and its laws.)

In an essay by Quinn in Ruse's anthology, Ruse was treated very sarcastically by Philip Quinn over his testimony in Arkansas and over Ruse's defense of having given false testimony. It was quite hilarious. Just goes to show that Ruse knows how to make lemonade out of a lemon. :-)

Ruse is a scoundrel, but an honest scoundrel. He is quite willing to engage IDers.