Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Angus Menuge responds

A note from Angus Menuge:

Victor,Thanks for this. By the way, there is no doubt about the Darwinian inquistion, which is ongoing. Just recently, palenotologist Richard Sternberg was removed from his office after allowing publishing of a science article by Stephen Meyer defending ID, "The Origin of Biological Information and the Higher Taxonomic Categories," [see http://www.rsternberg.net] and there is Bryan Leonard, an Ohio State school teacher who testified with me at Kansas. Leonard presented the results of his Ph.D research showing that a "teach the controversy" approach in Ohio improved student test results in science. Now 3 Ohio state professors are trying to deny him his Ph.D. [See Discovery Institute press release below]

Attack on OSU Graduate Student Endangers Academic Freedom SEATTLE
An effort by three professors at Ohio State University (OSU) to publicly damage the academic future of a graduate student, Bryan Leonard, because of his support for teaching about the controversy over evolution is "an attack on academic freedom and a violation of professional ethics," said Discovery Institute President Bruce Chapman. Bryan Leonard has not even had a chance to defend his dissertation through the university process and they have gone to the press to try to discredit him in public, said Chapman. "It seems to me that the graduate student's real crime in this group's eyes is that he represents the science teaching policy recently adopted by the Ohio State Board of Education, added Chapman. Having failed to win their way with the state board, they are taking it out on an unusually promising graduate student who was consulted by the board in its deliberations. The professors apparently have not even read the dissertation they are denouncing. According to an article in the June 9, Columbus Dispatch, OSU professors Steve Rissing, Brian McEnnis, and Jeffrey McKee are seeking to discredit the dissertation research of Mr. Leonard, an OSU graduate student (and current high school biology teacher). Mr. Leonard's dissertation analyzes how teaching students "the scientific data both supporting and challenging macroevolution" impacts student beliefs about evolution. "Last year Prof. Rissing tried unsuccessfully to kill the lesson plan that Mr. Leonard helped to draft, but he was rebuffed by the Ohio Board of Education," said Chapman. "Now it appears he and his colleagues are trying to strangle Mr. Leonard's academic future." According to the Dispatch, the professors admit that they haven't read Leonard's dissertation. But that hasn't stopped them from asserting that Leonard's research is flawed because it "may have involved unethical human-subject experimentation." But the supposed unethical problem with human subjects is nothing more than teaching high school students the scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory along with the evidence favoring the theory. That kind of teaching is an approach endorsed by Ohio's official science standards and also the conference report appended to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "The complaining professors are simply defining as 'unethical' any research that disagrees with their dogmatic view of how to teach evolution, said Chapman.

Angus is the author of Agents Under Fire (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004) . Here is a dialogue concerning the book:



Matt Jordan said...

Thanks for posting this, Victor. I'm finding myself increasingly frustrated by the completely closed-minded attitude so many intellectuals adopt towards ID. It reminds me of a story I heard about William Lane Craig, who attended a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature or the American Academy of Religion--I don't remember which--and heard a paper arguing against the resurrection of Christ. As the story goes, during the Q&A he asked, "But what about the empty tomb?" And everyone just laughed. Same here... We say, "But what about the initial presence of genetic information?" And the intelligentsia just laugh.

Anyway, I'd like to think that I'm an intellectually fair person. I am willing to acknowledge that Darwinian evolution really might be the correct account of our origins. But based on what I've seen, it's just plain inferior to ID. In the hopes of getting some confusions cleared up, I sent the following message to a pair of experts on evolution at OSU. So far, I haven't heard anything back. If any of the naturalists who frequent this blog are willing to answer my questions, I'd be glad to hear your thoughts. (Though I should mention that, after flipping through Dembski's The Design Revolution, I don't know if I would still phrase #3 in the same way. And after mulling it over for a few days, I'm not so quick to say that Darwinian evolution is compatible with Christian faith. But that's a different discussion.)

...I hope you haven't been bombared with e-mails in the past few days about evolution and intelligent design. If you have, I apologize for sending yet another.

My name is Matthew Jordan, and I am a graduate student in the philosophy department at OSU. My main research interests are in ethical theory, but I also have a strong interest in the philosophy of religion. Because of the latter, I have followed the ongoing debate about whether or not "intelligent design" counts as honest-to-goodness science with considerable curiosity. Based on what I have read, it seems that ID does pose a serious and legitimate challenge to Darwinian evolution. But--I hasten to add--my own background in the biological sciences is weak at best. I will be the first to admit that I lack the training to fully evaluate many of the claims that have been made. At the same time, I am competent to evaluate some such claims, and I find it frustrating to follow the debate via op/ed pages where, quite frankly, it seems that many of those who are quick to criticize ID simply choose to ignore the main issues.

So, if you have the time to respond, I'd love to ask you a few questions. I assume that if anyone at Ohio State can answer them, you gentlemen can. Any response at all will be most welcome; if you are pressed for time, the first question below is the one to which I'd most appreciate an answer.

1. Do you know of any one book which details in systematic fashion the evidence for Darwinian macroevolution? I'm looking for something accessible to the non-expert which answers the question "why should I believe that Darwinian evolution offers the correct account of the origin and diversity of life on earth?" (I'd also be interested in any single-volume critique of ID that you can recommend.)

2. Are the ID folks correct in their claim that the plausibility of Darwinism derives largely from a prior commitment (in the scientific community) to methodological naturalism? If so, how is that commitment justified?

3. I've seen a number of scientists criticize ID on the grounds that it is neither testable nor useful for making predictions. These are both understandable criticisms, except that I don't see how evolutionary theory is likely to do better than ID in either regard. It seems like both theories should be understood as inferences to the best explanation. Is that wrong? Or are there other "epistemtic virtues" possessed by Darwinism but not by ID?

4. In your view, does the initial presence of genetic information pose a special challenge to Darwninism (as advocates of ID have argued)?

5. Same as #4, but with 'irreducible complexity' in place of 'the initial presence of genetic information'.

6. Is there one specific feature of ID which you would cite as the fundamental flaw with the theory? (Obviously, I'm assuming that neither of you is a proponent thereof.)

7. I've sometimes heard the following sort of argument, which is related to question #2 above. "Critics of ID reject it because ID appeals to the work of a (probably nonphysical) agent as the efficient cause of natural phenomena, and those critics believe that this makes ID nonscientific by definition. But it is at least possible that the correct account of the origin of life involves the work of such an agent. And since science is, if anything, the domain of inquiry which seeks true explanations of natural phenomena, ID should count as a scientific theory. If we claim that ID is unscientific solely because it appeals to the work of an intelligent agent, and we grant that an intelligent agent could be the cause of life, then we are forced to hold that science as such may be in principle incapable of discovering the truth about the natural world. No scientist wants to claim that, however, so it should be agreed that ID is a scientific theory (whether it's actually a good theory or not). Q.E.D." In your view, does this sort of argument hold any water?

Again, I appreciate your time. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should mention that I myself am a theist, and a Christian to boot. So I guess I'd love to find out that the arguments for ID are really good ones after all. At the same time, however, I have a hard time believing that the scientific community subscribes to evolutionary theory solely out of a prior metaphysical commitment to atheism. Furthermore, I do not see an evolutionary account of our origins as being intrinsically opposed to the Christian religion, and I'd like to think that I'm objective and open-minded enough to be persuaded by the evidence--wherever it may lead. Thanks for your time.

Yours Gratefully,
Matthew Jordan

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