Saturday, January 15, 2005

Is ID Science? Is Darwinism?

Casual observers of the Dover, PA Intelligent Design controversy, which has occupied the op/ed pages of our local newspapers for some months now, may be forgiven for thinking that the conflict is one between science and creationism (i.e. religion).

This is the way that the controversy has been framed by adversaries on both sides, and both sides are wrong. Here's why:

1] The debate is not between science and religion. It's between two disparate ways of explaining or interpreting scientific data. The findings of scientists are not in question. What's in question is the philosophical framework upon which those findings are hung.

Darwinians argue that the data are best interpreted in terms of purposeless, unguided physical processes. ID proponents say that whatever role physical processes may have played in the development of life they are inadequate by themselves to account for biological information. Information, as far as we've been able to ascertain, is the product of minds. The debate is thus a philosophical debate about whether the evidence suggests that purposeful intelligence should be included as one of the congeries of factors responsible for the apparent design of biological structures, or not.

Thus claims like the following from a group of biologists at the University of Pennsylvania, writing to the Dover, PA school board to urge that they change their minds about introducing ID into the curriculum, are really irrelevant:

Evolution is based on and supported by an immense and diverse array of evidence and is continually being tested and reaffirmed by new discoveries from many scientific fields. The evidence for evolution is so strong that important new areas of biological research are confidently and successfully based on the reality of evolution.

It doesn't matter, however, how much evidence there is for evolution, that evidence doesn't begin to address the question at issue, which is whether life could have emerged as it has apart from intelligent input.

2] ID is accused of not being scientific because it can't be tested and therefore has no legitimate place in a science classroom. Scientific theories are capable of being refuted, at least in principle, and, objectors assert, there is no imaginable way that the claim that biological structures are the product of an intelligent mind can be refuted.

In the strict sense this is no doubt true, but what needs to be mentioned is that Darwinism falls victim to the same flaw. There is no test which would confirm or deny that blind forces and random chance can produce complex biological structures.

Any experiment conducted by a scientist that seeks to show that bio-machines and processes either could, or could not, have arisen apart from intelligent input is ipso facto inconclusive. The very fact that the experiment is set up, conducted, and monitored by an intelligent agent renders it so. This is not to say that there aren't ways to test both theories, it is only to say that neither can be falsified.

This, parenthetically, is ironic in light of claims by ID opponents that ID has been shown to be false. Indeed, to believe that ID has been refuted is to tacitly admit that it meets the falsifiability criterion of good science. For a Darwinian to argue that ID has been falsified when his own view is not capable of being falsified is to inadvertently acknowledge that ID is scientific (even if wrong) and that Darwinism is not.

ID proponents, of course, do not allege that mutation and natural selection aren't scientific mechanisms. What they say is that the claim that these processes act solely by themselves apart from any telic input can't be tested. The insistence that that claim is nevertheless true is an expression of a metaphysical preference that Darwinians want to be free to promote in public schools without having to tolerate competition from any contrary view.

Neither of the two competing views are science in the strict sense, but they are legitimate hypotheses in the philosophy of science. As such there is no reason why they can't both be discussed in an appropriate science class, just as it is proper to address many other matters from the philosophy of science in certain science classes (e.g. the definition of science, the nature of the scientific method, the assumptions of uniformity, sufficient cause, parsimony, other universes, etc.). To allow one to masquerade as science while banishing the other as religion is as unfair to students as it is to truth.

Where Do Schools Find These People?

More cognitively-challenged chuckleheads masquerading as educational administrators have turned up at a Florida Community College:

Florida's Indian River Community College (IRCC) is engaging in a campaign of repression against a Christian student group for attempting to show Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ on campus.

In November 2004, the college banned the Christian Student Fellowship (CSF) from showing the film because it was R-rated, despite the fact that the college has hosted a live performance entitled "F**king for Jesus" that describes simulated sex with "the risen Christ."

CSF students report that after their group wrote President Edwin R. Massey in protest, administrators pulled group leaders out of class and, astoundingly, demanded an apology from them for their actions.

Now, CSF is even unable to officially meet because its adviser resigned after IRCC imposed a burdensome new policy requiring that faculty advisers attend all student group meetings.

"IRCC's assault on CSF must end immediately," declared David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which wrote to IRCC on behalf of CSF. "Not only has the college adopted a breathtaking double standard for expression, but it has also abused administrative power in the worst way.

"As a public institution bound by the First Amendment, IRCC has no right to ban either the movie or the play, and it is shameful to demand an apology from students for trying to preserve their constitutional rights. IRCC's arbitrary and authoritarian actions demonstrate that the college has no respect for its students or for the U.S. Constitution."

CSF's trouble began on Nov. 15, 2004, when IRCC administrators first rejected fliers advertising the club's screening of The Passion of the Christ and then canceled the event altogether.

CSF reported that one administrator, Lori LaCivita, stated that the reason for these actions was that the film was R-rated.

Students also told FIRE that in early December, after CSF wrote Dean of Student Affairs Johnny Moore and President Massey in an effort to restore its rights, CSF President Preslin Isaac and Vice President Sydney Franklin were pulled out of class by LaCivita and other administrators, who demanded that the students write letters of apology to Dean Moore and President Massey for having addressed the college's "higher authority" without their permission.

When appealing to the IRCC administration proved fruitless, CSF contacted FIRE for assistance. On Dec. 16, FIRE wrote IRCC to explain that its actions against CSF were unconstitutional and violated its own policies, which emphasize that at IRCC "students are treated as mature adults."

FIRE also protested IRCC's remarkably intrusive and reprehensible requirement that government representatives, in the form of faculty advisers, be present at all student organization meetings.

In a Dec. 22 response, IRCC's attorney claimed that the college maintained a blanket ban on R-rated movies, arguing that because the college contains some dual-enrollment high school students, it would be "inappropriate" to risk having these students "wander into R-rated movies that they would not normally be able to see."

The attorney further demonstrated IRCC's mistrust of liberty by stating that if the college allowed constitutionally protected free speech on its campus, "[o]ne could only imagine the bizarre clubs and activities that would be formed." Yet at the college's Wynne Black Box Theatre, a project called No Shame Theatre has hosted skits that would earn an R-rating in any movie house.

One such skit, entitled "F**king for Jesus," involved a character simulating sex with and masturbating to an image of Jesus.

FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Greg Lukianoff remarked, "If IRCC has consistently prevented adult students from showing R-rated movies on campus, it has imposed on them an unconstitutional, paternalistic, and patronizing rule.

"IRCC's recent actions make it more likely that IRCC has singled out The Passion of the Christ for censorship in an astonishing instance of unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination and abuse of administrative power. Either way, the college has shown extraordinary arrogance and foolishness."

In January, college spokesperson Mary Locke contacted FIRE. Locke defended the policy against R-rated movies and told FIRE that allowing the No Shame Theatre skit was a breakdown of procedure and would not happen again, even though FIRE made it clear that both the film and the play should be permitted on a public college campus.

Indeed, IRCC seems to have taken action to silence No Shame Theatre; the name of the play has been changed on the IRCC chapter's Web page and the link to the script has been removed, although the script remains accessible elsewhere on the project's Web site.

IRCC has also taken its policy of intrusive monitoring of student organization activities to absurd heights.

In early December, one CSF student reported that an administrator and security guard interrupted a private discussion between her and a fellow student and demanded to know what they were doing.

IRCC's enforcement of the unlawful new rule prohibiting club meetings without the presence of a faculty adviser makes it impossible for CSF, a group that would normally meet at least three times a week, to function as a recognized student organization, as it is unable to find a new adviser who can attend every group meeting.

"It is absurd that IRCC believes that a government representative must monitor the meetings and control the expressive activity of every student group. This requirement is as insulting as it is Orwellian," stated FIRE's French.

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation's colleges and universities.

This episode had nothing to do with R-rated movies, of course, and everything to do with censoring a movie on the basis of its religious content.

How is it that people who have evidently never heard of, much less read, the first amendment of the constitution of the United States can be elevated to positions of bureaucratic authority over college students?

Here's a little thought experiment. Imagine that this wasn't a Christian group, but an African-American organization that wanted to show, say, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing or imagine that this was a gay/lesbian group that wanted to show Oliver Stone's Alexander. Everybody who thinks the school administrators would have banned the movie and imposed such stringent restrictions on the student organization, raise your hand.


The Incredible Shrinking Deficit

This will surprise you. Larry Kudlow, indulging his penchant, perhaps, for economic optimism, tells us the following:

Here's one story you won't find on tomorrow's front pages: "The U.S. Budget Deficit Is Shrinking Rapidly." The headline would be accurate, but the mainstream media is much more interested in talking down this booming economy than telling it like it is.

This week's Treasury report on the nation's finances for December shows a year-to-date fiscal 2005 deficit that is already $11 billion less than last year's. In the first three months of the fiscal year that began last October, cash outlays by the federal government increased by 6.1 percent while tax collections grew by 10.5 percent. When more money comes in than goes out, the deficit shrinks.

At this pace, the 2005 deficit is on track to drop to $355 billion from $413 billion in fiscal year 2004. As a fraction of projected gross domestic product, the new-year deficit will descend to 2.9 percent compared with last year's deficit share of 3.6 percent.

The rest of the column explains why the deficit is shrinking and why Kudlow thinks it will shrink even further. Hint: Liberals will not like the reason.

Wire reports are loaded these days with accounts of an expanded trade gap (driven mostly by slower exports to stagnant European and Japanese economies, along with higher oil imports from the peak in energy prices). But there's not a single report I can find that mentions the sizable narrowing in U.S. fiscal accounts. Behind this really big budget story is the even-bigger story: The explosion in tax revenues has been prompted by the tax-cut-led economic growth of the past eighteen months.

With 50 percent cash-bonus expensing for the purchase of plant and equipment, productivity-driven corporate profits ranging around 20 percent have generated a 45 percent rise in business taxes. At lower income-tax rates, employment gains of roughly 2.5 million are throwing off more than 6 percent in payroll-tax receipts. Personal tax revenues are rising at a near 9 percent pace.

When the Left reads these numbers there will be much teeth-grinding. Perhaps now would be a good time to invest in the company that manufactures those dental night guards.

Religious Conflict at Baylor

Baylor president Robert Sloan is under the gun because he's trying to make his school into an academically top-notch Christian university. Apparently, he is encountering resistance from those who are perfectly satisfied with Baylor being a Baptist university. There's no need, as they see it, to convert the school to Christianity.