Rice That Springeth Green
Cynthia Grenier’s review of Anne Rice’s novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (February) is appalling as well as disengaged. My approach to Rice’s book was hesitant, since I was cognizant of her oeuvre and am not an avid reader of the macabre. But her popularity and her return to the faith impelled me to take it up.
In Rice’s invitation to suspend our endemic cultural skepticism, one discovers a tender meditation on the humanity of Jesus Christ, his self-emptying, and the essential virtue of humility”as well as a rediscovery of the profound sacredness of the person, including the person of the child. This book was written on the knees and is a challenge to those who regard themselves as scholar-theologians but who do nothing but dismember the historical Jesus, the Christ of faith.
In the book’s artistry there is a kind of marriage of faith and reason, no less than in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ , which may be important for the long-term conversation between secularism and faith. It is at least a competent response to our late Holy Father’s invitation to artists to bring their talents to bear on the treasure of our Tradition.
One hopes that FIRST THINGS will revisit this rare and valuable contribution to contemporary reflection on our Savior, Jesus Christ.
James P. Nally
Edgewood, New Jersey
As a priest, a sometimes theologian, and a longtime friend of Anne Rice (and one who is blessed to have frequent discussions with her regarding theology and faith), I wish to address Cynthia Grenier’s mean-spirited review.
First of all, Anne Rice does not claim to channel Jesus. Christ the Lord is essentially a work of fiction. As has been the case with each of her novels, the author did an incredible amount of research before writing: She studied not only the scriptures but also a diversified selection of traditional and contemporary commentaries and works on aspects of Jewish life in the time of Jesus. One who channels claims to serve as a medium for receiving and disseminating information from someone else. Rice does no such thing. Instead, she takes what we know from the scriptures, the apocryphal gospels, and contemporary historical accounts and fills in the gaps with what might have happened.
Furthermore, it is more than a little cynical to say that Rice is celebrating her return to the faith by planning a trilogy from the manger to the Cross. It has been my privilege to walk with Anne through part of her journey back to the faith. Her decision to write these books was not a matter of deciding how to celebrate that return; it was a response steeped in gratitude. Her desire to spread the story of Jesus is a natural way for a bestselling author to thank Jesus for His work in her life. A great musician would have written a symphony, and a master artist would have painted a painting. A writer using her God-given talents to give glory to God even at the potential cost of the loss of a segment of her readership should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Some allowance has to be made, I suppose, for differences in taste, but the beginning of Grenier’s review bespeaks a predisposition to speak ill of the book because of the reviewer’s assumptions and biases.
Rev. Joseph Cocucci
Cathedral of St. Peter
Cynthia Grenier replies:
Far be it from me to criticize anyone who feels she may have found her salvation, but I would like to point out to the good Father Cocucci that sincerity and an incredible amount of research do not in themselves guarantee quality in any work of art. I fear I am still resolutely opposed to what Anne Rice chose”to use Father Cocucci’s words”to fill in the gaps with what might have happened. And I question how much greater glory is rendered unto God by this work of pop fiction.
While I am in sympathy with James P. Nally as to those who do nothing but dismember the historical Jesus, I find Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ a serious and worthy work. I cannot say as much for Anne Rice’s work, no matter how noble her intentions.
Michael Novak’s The Truth About Religious Freedom (March) was somewhat out of focus. The Founders endorsed the Declaration of Independence’s assertion that our rights are granted by the Creator, but how does one explain why this was discovered only in 1776? Since we were a weak, divided nation fighting the most powerful empire in the world, doesn’t it seem likely that Jefferson asserted the divine rights of the people as a public-relations attack on the divine right of kings? Whatever the Creator had in mind, in the real world we acquired rights by defining them, asserting them, fighting for them, and building the machinery to protect them.
Novak writes that the First Amendment was designed to prevent any one religion from being established. But by 1787 single-church establishments had either disappeared or given way to multiple establishments. As the Supreme Court noted in 1879 in the Reynolds decision, Jefferson was right when he wrote, with the concurrence of Attorney General Lincoln, that the First Amendment erected a wall of separation between church and state. Of course it took years to work out the bugs, but the Supreme Court was correct about separation in 1947 in Everson and later rulings.
Novak insults those whose ethics are based on naturalism rather than supernaturalism. Are religious injunctions against murder, theft, and bearing false witness valid because the Creator said so, or did religions credit the Creator with injunctions that people worked out from their experience of living in society?
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Maryland
Michael Novak replies:
It is not clear to me what Edd Doerr means by naturalism and supernaturalism. In the Catholic intellectual tradition, revelation and grace do not take away from, but complete nature and natural intellect. Furthermore, Madison and Washington both speak of new eras and new epochs and new discoveries. Thus, it is no mystery that, regarding the rights articulated in 1776, human beings make slow progress in understanding more deeply and clearly what earlier they believed only in nuce.
But the crux of the matter is that both Jefferson and Madison deliberately employed Christian language in articulating the natural right of religious liberty. Jefferson began his statute with a traditional Jewish and Christian declaration, Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; and added that all restrictions upon it are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion. In a parallel way, in his famous Remonstrance, Madison’s opening sentence declares that we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ?that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.’
Nearly all our founders made one distinction between church and state and quite another between religion and republican government. With Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, they held that a true religion (one that insists on worship in spirit and in truth) is an indispensable support for republican government, and that (in Washington’s words) in vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert religion and morality.
Meanwhile, they certainly agreed that the federal congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (neither abolishing those establishments that
still existed in some states nor imposing a new federal establishment). Nor should church officials make the decisions proper to the state. Between church and state, wise -separation; but between religion and the republic, amicable -accommodation.
For the long-suffering Mr. Doerr’s further torment, a fuller version of my exposition is found in my book On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding and in a more recent inquiry, written with my daughter Jana, Washington’s God , particularly in the section on religious liberty.
Catholics and Universities
If I understand Stephen M. Fields (The Civic University, March), he believes that America’s continued relevance depends upon recapturing a rational public discourse about the foundations of this country. Fields writes that the Catholic university presupposes a model congenial with the American proposition and can lead the way to a renewal of the national conversation. I must reluctantly disagree. With the turmoil that still prevails in most Catholic universities, they are in no position to play host to this discourse. In fact, most Catholic universities are struggling to define whether they are Catholic at all and what exactly that might mean. Until an authentically Catholic identity is recaptured on the campuses of Catholic universities, they are in no position to live up to the task Fields proposes.
Director of Campus Ministry
St. Elizabeth’s University Parish
Stephen M. Fields replies:
The impetus for my writing The Civic University was to encourage America’s Catholic institutions of higher learning to put their houses in order. As I mentioned, leading commentators are decrying the Western university’s capitulation to consumerism and ideology. These neglect the transmission of our rich cultural heritage, even while narrowing the plurality of perspectives that are the seedbed for new discoveries. Against these forces stands the Catholic university. Marcel LeJune suggests that post-Vatican II turmoil has corroded its ability to execute a distinctive social, cultural, and patriotic role.
All is not so grim. Surely our Catholic schools need to beef up philosophia perennis and resist converting theology into religious studies. But the example set by Notre Dame is showing that the message of Ex Corde Ecclesiae is bearing fruit. (I am not referring to the recently disheartening vacillation of Father Jenkins but to the article published several years ago in the New York Times entitled Notre Dame Combining Research and Religion.)
Similarly, faculty discussion at Georgetown University has produced a model designed to implement Ex Corde . Called centered pluralism, this model is based on the metaphor of intersecting circles. But the university’s Catholicity intersects all the others. Governed by its own object and method, the act of faith mediated by the Church, this circle is not to be held hostage by the objects and methods of the secular disciplines, nor are they to be prejudiced by it.
The crucial point is that Catholicity, as the university’s center of centers, claims for itself important prerogatives. First is the right to govern the university by the Catholic understanding of the nature and purpose of the human person. Second is the right to enter into dialogue with all the endeavors of the university in appropriate ways. By exercising its prerogatives, Catholicism forestalls the reduction of knowledge into ideology. Centered pluralism can be effective only if faculty are hired across the disciplines who know the Catholic intellectual tradition and who can bring it into conversation with all manner of ideas. Now stepping forward are younger scholars trained in the era of John Paul II who are prepared to do just that.
In On the Other Side of the Gates (Public Square, March), Richard John Neuhaus speaks to the all-too-often ignored problem of the black underclass. He correctly points out that there are a few black thinkers . . . who have, year in and year out, insisted that the healing of the black community”and, most particularly, of the black underclass”is primarily the responsibility of blacks.
The myopic presupposition of the modern civil rights movement that only externally-imposed factors contribute to the multifaceted problems of the black underclass reflects the fact that the present civil rights movement has failed to mature beyond its self-identification with opposition to the overt discrimination that it rightly sought to overthrow.
When the leaders of the movement continue to establish the fundamental identity of the black underclass as victimhood”though victimhood was (and in some cases still is) a palpable reality”but fail to honestly diagnose and address the problems within the black underclass, a defeatist, apathetic, and potentially hostile black underclass is the consequence.
Furthermore, the civil rights movement appears to many observers as a charade, especially given the tired bromides of the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who consistently revert to the default position that society is always culpable when members of the black underclass engage in social malfeasance. Thus the very people that the movement is designed to assist remain in patterns of self-destructive behavior that inhibit the breaking of the shackles of generational poverty and broken families.
Is there hope for new leadership of the civil rights movement that will honestly address the deep-seated self-inflicted problems of the black underclass? If so, it will be at the behest of black leaders who fearlessly address the internecine problems of the black underclass, and this first requires the acceptance of that oft-repeated maxim of Russell Kirk, Culture precedes politics. So long as the present leaders of the civil rights movement are at the helm, futile political solutions and overused platitudes will con-tinue. New leaders must emerge who recognize that a culture is transformed only when it recognizes it is in need of transformation.
Costs of Immigration
In Immigration Three Step (Public Square, March) Richard John Neuhaus’ figure of 11 million for those unlawfully present is a contrived figure that the government has claimed. The much more thorough study by the brokerage firm Bear Stearns arrived at the figure of 18 million.
Their report destroyed the myth that many illegal aliens pay their fair share of taxes: the single largest growing sector of the economy, the authors intone, is the gray sector, where salaries are paid and no taxes withheld. I wonder how Neuhaus, living in Manhattan, is not aware that the increasing numbers of unlawfully present workers have greatly added to New York’s $34 billion Medicaid costs, twice the per-capita costs in the rest of the country.
I also wonder if the tablemate that Neuhaus describes is from Cochise County, Arizona, where U.S. citizens do not travel in their autos unarmed for fear of robbery or worse by those who cross the border illegally? Many of these citizens sleep with a firearm under their pillows. Where are the Homeland Security Agents when you need them?
I wonder, finally, if Neuhaus agrees with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, knowing as he and they must, that aiding and abetting illegal aliens entering the country violates federal law? Nonenforcement of immigration statutes menaces our security and violates the very fabric of a law-abiding society. This issue will not go away, and the American public will be heard, as we shall see this year and in 2008.
Design, Science, and Philosophy: An Exchange
In his otherwise interesting essay (Darwin in Dover, PA, April), Robert T. Miller echoes an unfortunate canard”that Intelligent Design supporters are duplicitous: Most Intelligent Design theorists claim to be agnostic about the nature of this intelligent designer, but many will admit privately that the intelligent designer is God. Almost all the Intelligent Design supporters I know publicly affirm that they think the designer is God”but also point out, correctly, that evidence from biology only gets one to a designer of some sort.
Miller goes on to say that Intelligent Design is indeed science in what he calls the Quinean sense, but he disparages that sense as thin. Unfortunately, Miller does not put Darwinian evolution under the same scrutiny. Many Darwinists have happily admitted that their theory makes no substantial predictions. Stephen J. Gould famously asserted that if the tape of life were replayed, a completely different set of organisms would inhabit the earth”or none at all. In fact, Miller’s example of Newton’s physics as the paradigm of good science is inapt. It is indeed good science, but it is not the only kind of good science. Much of what we recognize as robust science is not lawlike but descriptive or inferential, and simply asks the question: What does nature look like?
Miller worries that discussing Intelligent Design in science class would confuse students, who may be poorly prepared to appreciate its arguments. That strikes me as a bad reason to mislead students into thinking that unintelligent processes are known to explain the development of life on earth”which most textbooks routinely do now. If students are mature enough to be taught the advantages of Darwin’s theory, they are mature enough to understand its shortcomings.
Miller further says that Intelligent Design is out of place in science class because most scientists do not accept its criticisms. But a high-school science class is not a conference of professional scientists. To be liberally educated, students should be taught to place science in a wider context than professional scientists do. Should such discussions be barred from biology class and restricted to a philosophy class, as Miller proposes? In my view that would be terrible pedagogy. It would teach students that academic boundaries are more important than answers.
The splitting of hairs about whether Intelligent Design is Quinean science, robust science, statistics, theology, philosophy, art criticism, or something else is a bore. Maybe it’s one of those, or a mixture of several, or something completely different. So what? The interesting question is whether Intelligent Design is actually true. About these questions, perhaps Miller is content to take the results of science as given, by which he apparently means accepting the assurances issued by scientific societies. But other people might want to think for themselves.
Michael J. Behe
Robert T. Miller hit the nail on the head when he wrote, Intelligent Design is not science, at least in the usual sense, but neither is it religion . . . . The truth is that Intelligent Design is metaphysics, a branch of philosophy . . . . I think public high schools ought to offer, at the senior level, a course in philosophy, including metaphysics.
I told one of the defense lawyers in the Dover case that he should take a key witness for the plaintiffs and make him a witness for the defense: Get him to admit that Intelligent Design is not science in the self-restrictive sense in which modern science understands itself, then focus on trying to explain the distinction between religion (revealed doctrine surpassing human wisdom and accepted as a matter of faith, in Miller’s succinct formulation) and philosophy.
Of course, this is difficult, precisely because of the contemporary blindness in regard to metaphysics. I think this problem is also fundamental to the debates on cloning, Altered Nuclear Transplants, and Oocyte-Assisted Reprogramming. If we accept modern scientific reductionism’s claim that things can be defined by their constituent elements, the debate is lost.
In the same issue, in the Correspondence section, however, a letter by Miller is answered by Cardinal Schoenborn-and Schoenborn is correct in his responses to Miller’s criticisms. There is indeed a need for more clarity regarding what counts for science in today’s academic community, what formal and final -causes are and where they are legitimately employed in intellectual inquiry, and what the nature of metaphysics is and its relation to natural philosophy or philosophical cosmology. On all these points I think Cardinal Sch?nborn has shown a better grasp of what is central and essential. I hope that these exchanges will lead to a meeting of minds in the pages of FIRST THINGS, which I commend for giving this issue the attention it deserves.
Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Ave Maria University
Robert T. Miller is wrong when he claims that Judge Jones had to determine whether Intelligent Design is religion or science. The court in Kitzmiller applied two related establishment-clause tests to the Dover board’s policies.
The first, which it called the endorsement test, asks, Would a reasonable, informed observer, i.e., one familiar with the history and context . . . perceive the challenged government action as endorsing religion? Under the endorsement test, the reasonable observer is a reasonably informed person within the community, not a member of a specialized guild”such as professional scientists. The endorsement test seeks to determine the effect of the display on the reasonable observer, inquiring whether the reasonable observer would perceive it as an endorsement of religion.
The second test Jones applied was the Lemon test. The Lemon test asks
(1) whether the government practice had a secular purpose;
(2) whether its principal or primary effect advanced or inhibited religion; and
(3) whether it created an excessive entanglement of the government with religion. The principal inquiry under Lemon , aside from the questions asked under the endorsement test, is about legislative intent.
It is odd that a trial court would apply both the endorsement test and the Lemon test. The endorsement test usually is viewed as a way of collapsing the three-part Lemon inquiry into a single question of public perception. Nevertheless, the key issues before Judge Jones were questions of public perception and legislative intent: Did the relevant public perceive that the Dover school board was favoring a particular religion, and did the Dover school board intend to favor a religion? These are narrow questions about the perceptions and motives of a small group of people, not broad philosophical questions about the meaning of science.
After determining what law applies, Jones reviewed the facts concerning the adoption of Dover’s Intelligent Design policy and found that the policy was essentially a repackaging of an earlier, failed creation science policy”and that a reasonable observer would understand that the policy constituted an endorsement of the religious viewpoints of some members of the school board.
The judge supported these findings with numerous citations of statements made by school-board members. He made these findings before discussing whether Intelligent Design is science.
Only after making these findings concerning of the perception of the school board’s policy in the local community did Jones move on to the issue of whether Intelligent Design is science. Although the judge mentioned that his findings regarding whether Intelligent Design is science were essential to his holding under the establishment clause, he never explained why. He made no serious effort to relate his findings concerning Intelligent Design and science to the endorsement test’s reasonable observer standard, nor could he have done so.
David W. Opderbeck
Assistant Professor of Law
City University of New York
Even if we grant Robert T. Miller’s premise that Intelligent Design is philosophy and not real science, it does not necessarily follow that Intelligent Design should be kept out of science classes.
Science teachers, at least good ones, discuss the philosophy of science with their students every day. Anyone sitting in on a high-school science class might hear mention, overt or tacit, of many universes, string theory, other dimensions, the scientific method, the law of parsimony, and so on. None of these raise an eyebrow when discussed in public-school classrooms, yet every one of them is a matter of metaphysical preference, not empirical fact. Why, then, should we suddenly grow squeamish when the philosophical topic turns to the possibility of an extra-cosmic designer?
Richard L. Cleary
I disagree with Robert T. Miller about the legal issues in the Dover case. Judge Jones issued a court order prohibiting criticism of Darwinism from the perspective of Intelligent Design in biology classes in Dover public schools. Violation of a federal court order is a federal crime. Now, what should the teacher do if a student asks a question about Intelligent Design?
Is it a federal crime to answer it? Has the student committed a crime by asking it? If it is not a crime for students to ask about Intelligent Design in class, is it a crime for the teacher to respond to students’ questions using the reasoning expressed in the censored statement? Or must the teacher answer the students’ questions only in accord with Jones’ philosophy of science as expressed in his written opinion? If some answers are legal under Jones’ order, and others illegal, should teachers submit possible answers to the judge for prior approval? Is criticism of Intelligent Design theory in science class illegal because it necessarily involves discussion of Intelligent Design? Jones’ ruling is a Constitutional outrage and an incoherent mess.
Professor of Neurosurgery
State University of New York
Stony Brook, New York
Robert T. Miller’s essay is a classic example of the fallacies of tidy-minded thinking. Miller claims that only lawlike principles belong to science, while Quinean reasoning like that used in Intelligent Design theory belongs exclusively to metaphysics. But scientific papers are filled with both kinds of reasoning. Metaphysics itself uses several categories of thought. Miller’s artificial rules about what categories of thought can be used in particular fields are never followed by anyone in the real world.
Miller’s discussion of lawlike principles of science involves an epistemological error: Assume that laws of nature exist; assume a scientist devises a model by which he can predict natural events; assume that reliable prediction is possible because nature consistently follows law. Now, can we conclude that the scientist has discovered and understands a law of nature? Miller says yes, but the answer is no. The model is an imitator of nature for one particular application and nothing more. The mind of man understands the model because the model was created by man. The mind of man does not understand nature at its deepest level, because nature was created by God.
Kant says that the human intellect converts the phenomena of nature into concepts using a priori categories of the mind. Thus, we have a practical knowledge that is trans-lated to the human mind and amenable to human use. However, the underlying essence of what we observe is concealed from human knowledge: There is always a gap between a scientific model and the actual laws of nature.
The false presumption that scientists understand the laws of nature has led to two kinds of epistemological imperialism by the scientific establishment: First, the idea that what we know is the only knowledge that is reliable and worth knowing (Miller does not make this mistake), and second, the notion that we can shelter ourselves from those who use different processes of reasoning by declaring their methods unscientific. Miller does make that mistake, and it is a difficult mistake to forgive.
Robert T. Miller suggests that philosophical questions such as those raised by Intelligent Design should be separated from evolutionary science into a realm of metaphysics where science provides the given results whence philosophy proceeds.
The implication is that science provides neutral facts devoid of philosophical implications. A further implication is that, through separation, the two realms will retain approximate equality in the public square. The ideals of neutrality and equality, however, often create a social and intellectual climate that is neither neutral nor equal.
When scientific and philosophical questions are separated, they are unlikely to receive equal treatment in schools. Rarely, if ever, would one encounter a science teacher able to tell his students that the philosophical implications of evolution will be considered next period in a metaphysics class. The vast number of science classes in high schools and colleges overwhelms the very few courses that treat metaphysical issues, letting philosophical questions fade from consciousness and public -consideration.
It is unlikely that philosophical questions pertaining to evolution will ever be given a fair hearing as long as they are quarantined by a milieu defined by the explicit dominance of the scientific method and an implicit dominance of metaphysical naturalism. Separate is not equal. The alternative to such separations could be defined, not on the basis of method, but on the basis of the subject and all that is relevant to it”including philosophical considerations.
Jack D. Elliott Jr.
West Point, Mississippi
Robert T. Miller’s article was helpful in many ways, but his conclusions merit the same sustain in part, reverse in part he gave Judge Jones in Kitzmiller. Miller is correct in noting that Intelligent Design is not science as science is understood and practiced by scientists today. Science has increasingly come to mean the development and promulgation of theories that explain nature in terms of laws that purport to describe and govern all observable phenomena of nature. The success of this scientific endeavor has been a major strand in the post-Enlightenment project of showing that, when it comes to God, we have no need of that hypothesis.
But neo-Darwinism has extended the realm of the physical sciences into the biological sciences by showing how random physical events at the molecular level could combine with natural selection to explain the biological creation and evolution of plants and animals, including human beings. In the scientists’ framework of creation, life is no longer special, and this has -greatly reduced the spaces in which a God of the gaps could work. Dialectical Darwinists like Dawkins and Dennett press this conceptual advantage to the limit, arguing that there is no need and no room for God in explaining life. By pressing the point, with tacit support from the scientific community and the current jurisprudence of the establishment clause, neo-Darwinism without God has become what our children are taught in school, and it is hardly surprising that people who believe that there is a God would search for a way to let their children know there is a vital difference between scientific neo-Darwinian theories and the near-religious assertions of dialectical Darwinists.
It is unfortunate that Intelligent Design became a test case. Intelligent Design challenges neo-Darwinism by injecting the notion that there are things in the natural world so complex that that they cannot be explained by any process operating according to the laws of science. But the complexity of flagella and eyes, for example, are poor instruments for refuting neo-Darwinism, much less dialectical Darwinism. Since no one really knows how specific instances of evolution occurred in the past, Darwinists feel free to hypothesize about multistage exadaptations. It is hard to imagine the proponents of Intelligent Design coming up with a scenario that would be half as entertaining as the scientific community’s invention of exadaptations that supposedly show how complex structures could have evolved.
The issue in Dover is not flagella, or complexity in general, but a deep division between those who believe in a secular universe and those who believe in a Creator God. Each camp wants schools to teach their children from its point of view. As matters now stand, the secular camp has the advantage in the courts, the press, and the schools. Intelligent Design is not up to the challenge of providing a serious alternative.
Robert T. Miller replies:
I thank all of the correspondents for raising important issues and allowing me to explain my views in greater detail.
To begin with Michael Behe, I assure him that I attribute no duplicity to the proponents of Intelligent Design. In the passage he refers to, I meant only, as Behe says, that Intelligent Design theorists claim to possess an argument for the existence of an intelligent designer of life on Earth, not necessarily an argument for the existence of a Supreme Being. I reiterate that, in my view, Intelligent Design is a perfectly respectable philosophical position, has nontrivial arguments in its favor, and may well turn out to be true.
On more substantive issues, Behe rightly notes that Neo-Darwinism makes at best only very weak predictions. Thinking that my distinction between science in the Quinean sense and science in the strict sense turns on predictive power, Behe then concludes I am letting Neo-Darwinism off easy by not holding it to the standard to which I held Intelligent Design.
Here Behe misunderstands my position. I distinguish science in the strict sense from science in the mere Quinean sense on the basis of the lawlikeness of the universal statements in which science taken strictly is couched, not on the basis of predictive power. Predictiveness generally follows from lawlikeness, but it is the lawlikeness, not the predictiveness, on which the distinction is based. In this regard, Neo-Darwinism and Intelligent Design differ significantly because, although everything posited by Neo-Darwinism acts in accordance with natural laws, the intelligent designer does not. That’s quite enough, in my mind, to make Neo-Darwinism a strictly scientific theory and Intelligent Design something else.
As to predictiveness, strictly scientific theories generally entail particular kinds of falsifiable predictions”predictions of the form If such-and-such physical conditions obtain, then such-and-such phenomena will be observed, what Quine would call observation categoricals. Such predictions allow us to test scientific theories by contriving the appropriate physical conditions and observing whether the predicted phenomena occur. Such tests let us be more certain about scientific theories than about other kinds of theories not subject to such tests. Of course, in some cases contriving the physical conditions mentioned in a scientific prediction is impracticable; some useful experiments in physics, for example, cannot be performed in practice because they would require particle accelerators the size of a galaxy. In such cases, the epistemic advantages of science’s predictiveness are lost, and this may have various practical implications, but the epistemological distinction between scientific and nonscientific theories remains.
As I assume Behe would admit, Neo-Darwinism does make scientific predictions, albeit mostly ones falsifiable only in principle and not in practice. For example, if we could collect a few million planets substantially similar to what Earth was like about two billion years ago and let them be for a few hundred million years, we could then examine them to determine if any organisms with irreducibly complex biological structures had appeared through random mutation and natural selection. If not, then Neo-Darwinism would be falsified, at least to a high degree of probability.
There is nothing comparable in the case of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design does not, even in principle, entail that if such-and-such conditions are fulfilled, the intelligent designer will cause some irreducibly complex biological structures to appear. Such a designer is under no obligation to act, no matter what conditions may obtain.
Further, it may even be possible to test Neo-Darwinism in practice. Imagine that experimental results show that, under certain circumstances, some strain of bacteria evolves over thousands of generations some new feature of the kind that Intelligent Design theorists would recognize as irreducibly complex. This would suggest very strongly that Neo-Darwinism was true. Once again, there is no comparable experimental result for Intelligent Design.
As to whether Intelligent Design ought be taught in high-school science classes, I still say that a scientific theory supported by only a small minority of the scientific community ought not be taught in high schools. Rather, we teach in high schools only what the scientific community generally regards as sound science. To learn a discipline, the beginning student has to start with what, at least for the time being, seems clear to those who are already proficient. Until a person knows a good deal of science, he is just not a competent judge of scientific disputes. Behe has much less confidence in the scientific evidence for Neo-Darwinism than do most scientists working in the area, and so he wants to teach in high schools what he takes to be a competing scientific theory better justified by the evidence. I think he’s overeager.
Behe also thinks that all this discussion of the epistemological status of Intelligent Design is pointless hair-splitting, the only real question being how complex life forms actually originated. Here, I must respectfully disagree. Questions about the kinds of justifications that underlie various theories, about what we ought to teach in public schools, and about possible usurpations of public resources to teach religious doctrine are also real questions that need to be answered. I am sorry that getting clear about such things bores Behe. We all get impatient with specialized discussions outside our own areas of expertise, for we tend not to appreciate the significance of the technical distinctions that specialists make and the subtleties of argument that are important to them. That’s one of the reasons that, not being a scientist, I am prepared to defer to the conclusions of the scientific community about which scientific theories are best justified by the available evidence, including its current consensus in favor of Neo-Darwinism.
FATHER JOSEPH FESSIO
and I agree more than we disagree. He thinks that his friend Cardinal Schoenborn got the better of me in our exchange of letters in the April issue, but I am happy to let the arguments in those letters speak for themselves.
DAVID W. OPDERBECK
underestimates, I think, how unusual Kitz-miller was. In most establishment-clause cases, the issue has not been whether a doctrine or practice is religious but whether the government’s involvement with a religious doctrine or practice has been too great. For example, in Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe , a public school had a policy regarding student-led prayers at high-school football games, and a key issue was whether the prayer, religious by any standard, was properly attributable to the government or only to the students. In resolving such issues, the courts have asked whether reasonably informed members of the community would conclude that government, as opposed to some private party, is endorsing the religious doctrine or practice.
In Kitzmiller , however, even after it was settled that the school board was endorsing Intelligent Design, the issue remained whether what was being endorsed amounted to religion. The Kitzmiller court thus really did need to determine whether Intelligent Design is religious, scientific, or something else.
Opderbeck would have decided the case under the legislative-intent component of the Lemon test, arguing that the religious motivation of the Dover school board was sufficient for a violation of the establishment clause.
Lemon surely says that a religious legislative intent is enough for a violation, but, like Justice Scalia and others, I do not agree. For example, the members of some school board might think it is their religious duty to teach arithmetic, and they might make it clear that they are mandating the teaching of arithmetic for the greater glory of God, perhaps on the basis of some numerological religious principles. They would thus have a religious motivation for their arithmetic policy, but teaching arithmetic does not thereby become unconstitutional.
To decide Kitzmiller , I would note as a preliminary matter that some scientific theories are more compatible with certain religious doctrines than are others. For instance, the big-bang theory meshes nicely with the doctrine of divine creation by a transcendent God, but the theory that the universe is infinite in space and eternal in time, which was the dominant theory among physicists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, seems more compatible with atheism. Similarly, the monogenetic theory of the origin of humankind is more compatible with the Christian doctrines of the creation and fall of man than is the polygenetic theory. There can thus be religious reasons for preferring one purely scientific theory over another.
In Kitzmiller , a public-school board adopted a policy of disparaging a scientific theory generally supported by the scientific community in order to promote as science what is really a philosophical theory”and all this because the philosophical theory supports theism while the generally accepted scientific theory seems to some people to support atheism. Here we have a subjective religious purpose combined with an indirect religious effect, all achieved through the illegitimate means of teaching as science a theory not generally accepted by the scientific community. For me, that is enough to violate the establishment clause. More generally, I would lay down the rule that the government violates the establishment clause if it endorses a putatively scientific theory that is not accepted by the scientific community and does so for the -subjective purpose of promoting a religious doctrine perceived to be supported by the theory being endorsed. This rule would allow religiously motivated teaching of theories generally accepted in the scientific community, as well as the teaching of theories not so accepted if the decision to teach them were made on nonreligious grounds. The rule does, however, prevent religious groups from inserting into public education doctrines not generally accepted in the scientific community in order to advance religion.
Since the establishment clause should be neutral as between religion and nonreligion, there would be an analogous rule about putatively scientific theories not accepted by the scientific community but endorsed by government for the subjective purpose of inhibiting religious doctrines. For example, if a group of militant atheists gain control of a school board and mandate that physics teachers discuss, in addition to the big-bang theory, the theory that the universe is infinite in space and eternal in time”a theory not accepted in the scientific community but favored by the school board over the big bang because of the big bang’s perceived theistic implications”this too would violate the establishment clause.
RICHARD L. CLEARY
runs together several things that ought be kept separate. Multiverses, strings, and multiple dimensions are unobservable entities posited to explain observed phenomena; such entities are no less scientific posits than subatomic particles or gravitational fields, which are equally unobservable. Discussions of the scientific method or standards of scientific reasoning, while not scientific posits, are properly part of science education, which not only conveys scientific knowledge but teaches the methods and principles by which such knowledge is gained.
The philosophy of science, by contrast, is a subdivision of philosophy that treats philosophical questions arising from science, like whether scientific laws are mere regularities or metaphysically necessary truths. All of these are different from Intelligent Design, which is a philosophical theory in direct competition with a scientific theory. As I have already said, as a matter of policy, we ought not to teach philosophical theories in science classes; as a matter of constitutional law, if for a religious purpose we teach nonscientific theories in public schools, or even scientific theories not accepted in the scientific community, we also violate the establishment clause.
raises a host of questions, apparently in the mistaken belief that they do not have clear answers. In fact, they do. The order issued in Kitzmiller applied only to the school board and enjoined only the particular policy at issue in the case. Thus, students do not violate the order by asking about Intelligent Design, if only because they are not subject to the order. Even if individual teachers, as opposed to the school board, are deemed to be subject to the order, answering a student’s question does not amount to enforcing the enjoined policy, and so the teacher would not violate the order either, no matter how he answered the student’s question. Furthermore, most high-school biology teachers have become adept at artfully deflecting questions about creationism; doing so about Intelligent Design ought be no harder. The messiness Egnor perceives is a mirage.
is right that, in terms of getting along in the real world, we have to make use simultaneously of various kinds of theories, scientific and otherwise. I remind him that I consistently said I was speaking about the differences among various theories from an epistemological point of view, and what is important in epistemology might not be important in other contexts.
Hutchinson and I have a more substantial dispute about whether science amounts to genuine knowledge about the natural world. Hutchinson denies that it does. For my part, I think that the knowledge we have of the external world, both the natural sciences and our commonsense physics, is the most reliable form of knowledge we have. It is certainly more reliable than Kant’s conclusions in the Critique of Pure Reason. In any event, we all risk our lives on such knowledge every day, trusting that the automobiles, skyscrapers, and jetliners built in reliance on such knowledge will function as predicted and not kill us.
Hutchinson also thinks I am trying to rule theories like Intelligent Design out of bounds by declaring them unscientific, but I am doing no such thing. I merely argued that Intelligent Design is epistemologically different from science in the strict sense and that this militates against teaching it in science classes in public schools. I went out of my way to say that theories scientific in the Quinean sense, including Intelligent Design, may very well be fully justified by the available evidence and be true in every sense of the word, and I expressly suggested a place for philosophy, which includes such theories, in the public-school curriculum. Hutchinson finds it difficult to forgive me for the views he wrongly attributes to me, but I’m happy to forgive him for the misreading.
I sympathize with Jack D. Elliott’s concern that philosophy gets short shrift relative to science in our education system and would likely continue to do so even if, as I proposed, we taught philosophy courses in high school. To some extent, this disparity of treatment is inevitable, for philosophy, being the most abstract of the humanities, is necessarily the most difficult, can be taught only to more mature and well-prepared students, and often presupposes results in science or other domains. Elliott’s solution of combining philosophy and science in one course, however, seems to me impracticable. Even if the epistemological and pedagogical objections can be overcome, Elliott’s proposal would work a revolution in educational organization. Some high schools already teach courses in philosophy. My proposal to do this more widely is at least within the realm of what might be practically achieved.
says he agrees in part and disagrees in part with what I said in the original article, but the area of agreement seems much larger than the area of disagreement. In fact, I cannot discern just which position I took that Mae rejects. But if Mae really wants a disagreement, I will accommodate him by disagreeing with his view that Neo-Darwinism as taught in public schools generally incorporates the atheistic prejudices of Dawkins and Dennett. There are some aggressively atheistic science teachers in our schools and even an occasionally biased sentence in high-school science texts, and both of these need to be dealt with, but teaching Neo-Darwinism remains so controversial because some religious believers think that the scientific theory itself is a threat to religious doctrine”which it is, if one’s religious doctrines include some very literal readings of Genesis. For this there is no remedy. What I take to be the correct view appears in a passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 pointed out to me by Stephen Barr: The gist of the theory of evolution as a scientific hypothesis . . . is in perfect agreement with the Christian conception of the universe; for Scripture does not tell us in what form the present species of plants and of animals were originally created by God.
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