Monday, November 24, 2008

Public Education and Intelligent Design (Pt. I)

Bradford over at Telic Thoughts puts us on to a paper by atheistic philosopher Thomas Nagle in the journal Philosophy and Public Policy. Nagle, a Darwinian evolutionist, joins Richard Dawkins (See Ch. 2 of The God Delusion) in defending the proposition that ID, contrary to what we are so often told, actually is a scientific hypothesis. In light of his argument Judge Jones, the ACLU and much of the reasoning behind the Kitzmiller decision are all looking increasingly unenlightened.

This post will be the first of a series on Nagel's paper. He begins by pointing out that it would be intellectually irresponsible to avoid significant questions that lie at the interface of evolution and religion:

[T]he campaign of the scientific establishment to rule out intelligent design as beyond discussion because it is not science results in the avoidance of significant questions about the relation between evolutionary theory and religious belief, questions that must be faced in order to understand the theory and evaluate the scientific evidence for it. It would be unfortunate if the Establishment Clause made it unconstitutional to allude to these questions in a public school biology class, for that would mean that evolutionary theory cannot be taught in an intellectually responsible way.

This is so for a couple of reasons. First, Darwin originally advanced evolution as an argument against purposeful design in nature. To allow evolution to be taught without allowing the design hypothesis to defend itself is simply irresponsible. Second, to shelter a theory from criticism, to disallow the discussion of any counterevidence, as the defenders of Darwinism wish to do, is also intellectually inexcusable.

Nagle goes on to make an observation that we have made here at Viewpoint on numerous occasions. The fundamental claims of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design are contraries. If it is scientific to assert that life is solely the product of unintentional processes then the denial of the claim must also be scientific:

[Evolution's]defining element is the claim that all [life] happened as the result of the appearance of random and purposeless mutations in the genetic material followed by natural selection due to the resulting heritable variations in reproductive fitness. It displaces design by proposing an alternative. No one suggests that the theory is not science, even though the historical process it describes cannot be directly observed, but must be inferred from currently available data. It is therefore puzzling that the denial of this inference, i.e., the claim that the evidence offered for the theory does not support the kind of explanation it proposes, and that the purposive alternative has not been displaced, should be dismissed as not science. The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate the falsehood of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that demonstration can be regarded as scientific support for the hypothesis. Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of ID can count as a scientific claim.

Nagle is right on the mark here and has much else of interest to say on the matter of whether ID should be considered science and taught in science classes. We'll discuss more of his paper in the days ahead.


Good Riddance

Long War Journal reports that yet another al Qaeda leader has been killed in Pakistan by the U.S. military using missiles fired from a Predator drone aircraft. The latest casualty was one Rashid Rauf, the man who planned the attempt a couple of years ago to bomb a dozen trans-Atlantic flights using liquid bombs.

This makes the fifth senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan to have been sent to the throne of Allah this year. Imagine what it must be like to be one of these psychopaths never knowing when you go to bed if a hellfire missile will disturb your dreams. There must also be a lot of paranoia developing among the cadres since it's obvious that the Americans are getting a lot of actionable intelligence from somewhere inside the inner circles of these killers. Who's providing it? Are the Americans paying off underlings for information on their superiors? The big rats must be suspicious of the mice, and it's likely that there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing, purges, executions and other ugly episodes that will foster resentments among the formerly faithful. This sort of thing will only lead to a breakdown in loyalty and produce even more intelligence.

Al Qaeda must be reeling. Perhaps they're hope is that President Obama will scale back operations against them and give them a chance to catch their breath. Let's hope he's smarter than that.


Hillary at State

Some historians say that Rome began its decline when it instituted a co-emperorship. With two men sharing rule there were two poles around which loyalties and power revolved. It seems that Barack Obama has chosen to do something similar by appointing Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State. She will have her own staff and doubtless her own foreign policy. It will be very hard for Obama to control her and the State Department may well morph into a co-White House.

I'm not sure why Ms Clinton would accept this post if she plans on running for president in 2012 since it'll be hard to quit after two years to run against the man who gave her the job. On the other hand, if she's seen as the author of a successful foreign policy she may eclipse Obama in the public eye. If he tires of her machinations and lets her go her devotees may be so upset that he'll have trouble in the primaries if she chooses to run against him.

The other question is why Obama named her to the post. Forgive me for being cynical, but I don't believe he thought she was the best qualified person available for the job. It could be that he felt that as a cabinet secretary she'd be too preoccupied to spend the next three years campaigning against him.

At any rate, having Hillary and, perforce, her husband at Foggy Bottom promises to offer a lot of drama for the media and a lot of headaches for Obama. Stay tuned.