Friday, September 30, 2005

Prognosticating Dover

Bill Dembski offers his take on three possible outcomes of the Dover Intelligent Design trial and what each portends for the future of ID:

Before the Dover trial concludes, I want to offer some remarks about what I take will be its long-term significance. I want to do this now so that critics won't be in a position to accuse me of spinning or rationalizing the outcome of the trial once it is reached (of course, they'll still find fault, but that's par for the course). As I see it, there are three possible outcomes:

1.The Dover policy, in which students are informed that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People is in their library, is upheld.

2.The Dover policy is overturned but the scientific status of ID is left unchallenged.

3.The Dover policy is not only overturned but ID is ruled as nonscientific.

For what it's worth, my subjective probabilities are that outcome 1. has about a 20% probability, outcome 2. has about an 70% probability, and outcome 3. has less than a 10% probability. (Part of what prompts these numbers is that the ACLU is completely outmanning the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover policy. When I was an expert witness in the case, TMLC had one full-time person on the case and two or three part-timers. The ACLU, by contrast, had at least twelve full-timers on the case.)

Of course, I regard 1. as the best outcome for ID. That's not to say I think the Dover policy is particularly astute. Indeed, that's why the ACLU has come to this case both guns blazing, namely, because the policy is less than optimally formulated and they hope that they can take down not only the policy but also ID with it (their model is what happened to creationism in Edwards v. Aguillard in the 80s).

Fortunately, ID is in a much stronger position scientifically than creationism, so the ACLU faces a much tougher opponent than back then. Unfortunately, members of the Dover school board have, through their actions, conflated ID with an apparent religious agenda. For instance, it doesn't help the ID side that William Buckingham, then a member of the Dover school board, in trying to get the Dover policy adopted, remarked: "Two thousand years ago somebody died on the cross, can't somebody stand up for him?"

If the policy is upheld, it will embolden school boards, legislators, and grass roots organizations to push for intelligent design in the public school science curriculum. As a consequence, this case really could be a Waterloo for the other side.

But will outcome 2. or 3. constitute a Waterloo for ID? Outcome 2. certainly won't. It may make policy makers more cautious about how they incorporate ID into educational policy. But it certainly won't stop them, especially with Santorum language in the Federal Government's education policy.

That leaves outcome 3. Although I would hate to see this happen, mainly because of all the young people who would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins, this would hardly spell the end of ID. For one thing, ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries. The idea that ID is purely an "American thing" can no longer be sustained. Interest is growing internationally and it will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of the trial. Also, ID is of great interest to college and graduate students, so these ideas will continue to be discussed.

But the most important thing to understand about this case is that the significance of a court case depends not merely on the judge's decision but also on the cultural forces that serve as the backdrop against which the decision is made. Take the Scopes Trial. In most persons minds, it represents a decisive victory for evolution. And yet, in the actual trial, the decision went against Scopes (he was convicted of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolutionary theory).

Thus, unlike outcome 1., which would be a Waterloo for the other side, I don't see outcome 3. as anything like a Waterloo for our side. It would make life in the short-term more difficult, and it certainly would not be pleasant to have to endure the gloating by the other side, but the work of ID would continue. In fact, it might continue more effectively than under outcome 1., which might convince people that ID has already won the day when in fact ID still has a long way to go in developing its scientific and intellectual program.

To sum up, we might say that outcome 1. would be a recipe for complacency, outcome 2. would encourage us to take greater care and try again, and option 3. would inspire us to work that much harder for ID's ultimate success. I trust that Providence will bring about the outcome that will best foster ID's ultimate success. The important thing is ID's intellectual vitality.

Whether favor or adversity is, at least for now, the best tonic for ID's intellectual vitality remains to be seen.

I'm not quite as sanguine as Dembski about the consequences of 2. and 3. Whether the scientific status of ID is legally left unchallenged or ID is ruled to be unscientific it seems to me that a defeat for Dover will be conflated in the public mind with a judgment that ID is nothing more than creationism. This is the impression that the plaintiffs are working assiduously to create in the media, and a defeat for Dover will be like embedding that misimpression in cement. It'll be devilishly difficult to correct the error once the cement dries.

Political Hackery

The Washington Post, no fan of Republicans in general nor Tom DeLay in particular, nevertheless smells a partisan hit job by Texas district attorney Ronnie Earle:

[A]t least on the evidence presented so far, the indictment of Mr. DeLay by a state prosecutor in Texas gives us pause. The charge concerns the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee created by Mr. DeLay and his aides to orchestrate the GOP's takeover of the Texas legislature in 2002. The issue is whether Mr. DeLay and his political aides illegally used the group to evade the state's ban on corporate contributions to candidates. The indictment alleges that TRMPAC took $155,000 in corporate contributions and then sent a check for $190,000 to the national Republican Party's "soft money" arm. The national committee then wrote $190,000 in checks from its noncorporate accounts to seven Texas candidates.

Perhaps most damning, TRMPAC dictated the precise amount and recipients of those donations. This was an obvious end run around the corporate contribution rule. The more difficult question is whether it was an illegal end run -- or, to be more precise, one so blatantly illegal that it amounts to a criminal felony rather than a civil violation. For Mr. DeLay to be convicted, prosecutors will have to show not only that he took part in the dodge but also that he knew it amounted to a violation of state law -- rather than the kind of clever money-trade that election lawyers engineer all the time.

As The American Spectator observes:

The only problem is that similar transactions are conducted by both parties in many states, including Texas. In fact, on October 31, 2002, the Texas Democratic Party sent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $75,000, and on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $75,000. On July 19, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000 and, again on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000. On June 8, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000. That very same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000.

Mr. Earle, of course, is not interested in such shenanigans when perpetrated by Democrats. Only when it is Republicans who may have stepped a toe over the line is his finely honed sense of justice roused from its slumbers. Mr. Earle is a political hack who is using the power of his office to destroy his political enemies. He needs to be reigned in.

Thanks to Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters for the links.

Must the Designer be God?

Telic Thoughts puts us on to an excellent argument made a couple of years ago by atheist Toby Wardman in defense of the argument for God based on cosmic design. Wardman argues that the universe clearly is fine-tuned and refutes several common objections against the argument from design. Even so, Wardman concludes that the argument does not lead to the existence of a creator God:

I have argued that the fine-tuning argument is strong, and cannot easily be dismissed. Ultimately, I don't think it makes the existence of God any more likely, but this is not because of any weakness in the argument; it's because the question raised by the conclusion ('Why is the universe life-permitting?') isn't answered by positing a creator God. That suggestion just pushes the question another step further back: for why should a God exist with the right characteristics to create a universe? If the theist's reply is that God can exist uniquely without the need for any further explanation, then the theist is admitting that unusual and significant things [like universes suited for life] can exist unexplained, and if this is admitted, then we don't need to postulate a Designer for the universe after all.

In other words, the argument from cosmic design is very strong in pointing to a a certain intentionality or purpose in the universe. Nevertheless, one cannot conclude from the argument that the source of that intention is the God of traditional theism. Whether Wardman's conclusion is correct or not, it is certainly interesting since it is precisely what Intelligent Design advocates have been saying for the last ten years and what the plaintiff's attorneys and witnesses in the Dover ID case are strenuously seeking to deny.

That the universe looks to be designed is as obvious as anything can be. The question is whether the design is real or merely apparent, i.e. is it the product of a purposeful cause or is it just coincidence. ID seeks to demonstrate that the design is real and stops there. We could go on, once that answer is reached, and ask whether the cause is the God of theism or some other entity like a world soul or cosmic mind, but, despite what the critics are at pains to demonstrate in the Dover case, ID does not formally ask those questions. It leaves them to theologians and philosophers of religion.

In short, it is possible to believe that the universe is the product of intentional design without believing that the designer is the God of Christianity. Thus it is possible to talk about ID in public school science classrooms without stepping into the domain of religion. It is not possible to have genuine design without a designer, but it is possible (at least logically) to have a designer that is not the God of theism.

That an atheist has made this point in a well-reasoned essay is something that merits attention. People interested in the argument based on the fine-tuning of the universe should read his defense. It really is well done.