The Panda’s Thumb Goes After Casey Luskin Yet Again

Casey Luskin, Program Officer in Public Policy and Legal Affairs for the Discovery Institute, has recently published an article entitled ZEAL FOR DARWIN’S HOUSE CONSUMES THEM:HOW SUPPORTERS OF EVOLUTION ENCOURAGE VIOLATIONS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT CLAUSE in the Liberty University Law Review. Luskin continues to be a favorite target of the anti-ID crowd over at The Panda’s Thumb, and this article is no exception. The task of misrepresenting Luskin fell to attorney Timothy Sandefur, who frequently contributes to the Panda’s Thumb blog site.

Luskin clearly lays out the intent of the article in the very first paragraph and writes:

The common stereotype in the controversy over teaching evolution holds that it is the opponents of evolution who are constantly trying to “sneak religious dogma back into science education.”1 While perhaps in some
instances this caricature is not entirely undeserved,2 the mainstream media and legal community pay scant attention to incidents where proponents of Darwinian evolution transgress the boundary between church and state erected by the Establishment Clause. By documenting ways that evolution advocates encourage violations of the Establishment Clause—in some instances, explicitly advocating state endorsement of pro-evolution religious viewpoints in the science classroom—this Article will show the impropriety of the common “Inherit the Wind stereotype.”3

Apparently this clear of a statement isn’t good enough for Sandefur who sniffs:

It will come as no surprise to anyone that Luskin’s argument is flimsy, his evidence illusory, his readings of the case law distorted, and the overall effect essentially a fun-house mirror version of First Amendment law.


This is part and parcel of the sort of “critiques” (I’m being kind, “diatribes” would be the more appropriate term) leveled at ID proponents all the time over at PT. Never mind Luskin’s actual credentials, listed as follows at the head of his article:

As an attorney with a graduate science background, he
has published in GEOCHEMISTRY, GEOPHYSICS, AND GEOSYSTEMS; PROGRESS IN COMPLEXITY,
INFORMATION AND DESIGN; RESEARCH NEWS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN SCIENCE AND
THEOLOGY; JOURNAL OF CHURCH AND STATE; MONTANA LAW REVIEW; HAMLINE LAW
REVIEW; and THE PRAEGER HANDBOOK OF RELIGION AND EDUCATION IN THE UNITED STATES
(James C. Carper & Thomas C. Hunt eds., 2009).

For someone who has flimsy arguments, illusory evidence and distorted readings of case law (among other academic sins according to Sandefur), that’s a pretty impressive C.V. for anyone. But this is yet another example of the scorched earth policy adopted by the anti-ID crowd. If you don’t agree with someone, denigrate, denigrate, denigrate.

But what of Sandefur’s own argument? Near the end of his fact-free screed, Sandefur writes:

Now, let’s play “name that logical fallacy” (to steal from our friends at the Skeptic’s Guide): “[E]ither ID is a religious viewpoint that is unconstitutionally opposed, inhibited, and disapproved when this textbook is used in public schools,” writes Luskin, “or ID is not a religious viewpoint and is thereby fair game for all forms of government-sponsored attacks, disparagement, hostility, as well as endorsement.” This is all very clever, no doubt–it is, as Lincoln once said, the kind of logic whereby a horse chestnut turns out to be the same thing as a chestnut horse. It’s the fallacy of the false dichotomy. In fact, ID is a religious viewpoint masquerading as a scientific theory–it is a religious position which is layered in factually untrue or arbitrary assertions. Government is entirely free to denounce the factually untrue statements and explode those arbitrary assertions. No, it cannot say that God does not exist, and it cannot say that man was not created by God through some guided process. On that, Luskin is correct. But government violates no law when it says (and rightly) that there is no factual basis for ID’s scientific claims.

Now who is making flimsy arguments? Sandefur’s entire argument against Luskin falls completely apart here, and, in fact is a prime example of exactly what Luskin is writing about.

Upon what grounds is Sandefur claiming that “there is no factual basis for ID’s scientific claims”? If we’ve learned anything about this debate, it is that the anti-ID crowd fervently…nay, rabidly…believes that ID is not scientific. Yet, here is Sandefur claiming that ID’s scientific claims have been falsified (how else to read “no factual basis for”?). Really? By who, when, and in what lab were the experiments conducted that falsified anyof ID’s scientific claims? On the one hand Sandefur wants to argue that ID is a “religious position…”, while on the other hand, he wants to claim it is layered in “factually untrue or aribitrary assertions”. How were all these “factually untrue” claims deemed to be so? Scientifically? By who, where, in what lab? In what relevant peer reviewed scientific research journal might one be able to read these findings? And I’d really like to know how these results might be falsified. The irony here is palpable. ID isn’t science, but it has falsified by science. Huh?

Sandefur has unwittingly demonstrated the truth of Luskin’s whole argument as he resorts to claiming that ID is factually untrue, he is, in fact, saying that there is no factual basis to think there is any sort of higher intelligent cause responsible for the design of, well, anything, in all of the cosmos or biological systems. That is tantamount to telling someone whose religious beliefs say otherwise that those beliefs are factually incorrect. Sandefur tries to weasel out of that by saying Luskin is right that Government can make no statement that God doesn’t exist or had something to do with creating the Cosmos. But, the clear conclusion of the claim that ID is factually incorrect comes pretty close to saying that anyone who believes those sorts of things is wrong, and if that is allowable in a public school science classroom, then that is tantamount to Government favoring a particular religious view…which is, of course, Luskin’s whole point! Sandefur just doesn’t seem to be able to grasp that simple idea.

Perhaps it would become clearer to him if he attempted to state how he knows scientifically (and not religiously or philosophically) that the properties of the cosmos are such that any apparent design we observe in natural systems (biological or otherwise) can not be actual design, even in principle. As there is no scientific answer to that question, it would be very problematic for Sandefur to continue his line of argument against Luskin.

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20 Responses to The Panda’s Thumb Goes After Casey Luskin Yet Again

  1. A post-modernist Darwin’s bulldog is going not only after Casey Luskin here but other ID fellows and the Discovery Institute:

    http://thedispersalofdarwin.wo.....win-jesus/

    Michael D. Barton is another rabid atheist Darwinbot like P. Z. Meyers.

  2. I read about this on pandas thumb first.
    Its exciting to this biblical creationist to see Mr Luskin’s argument that if I.d etc is religion then the state can not attack it. Otherwise the state is attackimg religious doctrines and breaking the separation concept or neutrality etc that is always legally invoked to censer in science class God and Genesis.
    BINGO.
    i have argued this for several years.
    if the state can’t say(endorse) god or Genesis then it can’t say they are false. Directly by teaching evolution etc or indirectly by banning creationism(s) in subjects claiming to teach the truth of origins.

    It all comes down to the recent absurdity of “courts” finding the constitution , written by very Protestant(even Puritan/Evangelical) Yankee and southern people, had a intention to censor god/Genesis in origin subjects in state schools.
    This is a absurdity .
    These people would of banned any hint of atheism
    or denial of the bible if the subject had come up.
    They did not nor can it be construed any prohibition of teaching God or genesis as options for origins of anything.
    The law against creationism is a fraud or gross error.
    I.d doesn’t need to prove its science but simply be the agent of change to overthrow the wrong recent ideas on schools and origin inquiry.
    Out with the law and in with the legislature fair and square.

  3. 3

    It’s interesting how I am described by Enezio. I have never claimed to be an atheist, yet he makes that assumption about me. Anti-creationism ? atheism.

  4. 4

    The ? in my comment was meant to be a does-not-equal sign.

  5. ‘Upon what grounds is Sandefur claiming that “there is no factual basis for ID’s scientific claims”?’

    The fact that most biologists think that ID is nonsense, perhaps?

  6. What they “think” is immaterial–what the evidence demonstrates is all that matters and, had you actually read the post thoroughly, you would see therein lies the rub: how can it be ‘proven false’ if there haven’t been any experiments that have at least tried to ‘debunk’ it?

    Since there aren’t any, we can only surmise that your point is correct: they “think” (i.e. they believe, i.e. it’s a faith proposition) that ID is nonsense which, I daresay, isn’t anything akin to science.

    (But, of course, in this day and age, science as it was understood up until the mid-20th century, has been corrupted from top to bottom, so it’s no longer necessary to prove anything: just state it’s so and, voila!, it is.)

  7. Yet, here is Sandefur claiming that ID’s scientific claims have been falsified (how else to read “no factual basis for”?)

    There is another way and I would guess that is what Sandefur meant. If ID is not falsifiable then there is no factual basis for it (or against it).

  8. MF:

    The design inference is eminently falsifiable.

    Simply produce a case where on credible observation, undirected chance and forces of mechanical necessity produce digitally coded functionally specific, complex information, of at least 500 – 1,000 bits. That would put paid to the ID explanatory filter, and to the concept of complex specific information as an empirically reliable sign of directed contingency, i.e. design. (Genetic algorithms, etc, as designed searches on active information in islands of function don’t count: the problem is to get to islands of function in vast config spaces, not to hill-climb within such a space. Of course, if you were to write a GA by sky or zener diode noise without smuggling in algorithms, codes and the like through active injections of functional information and organization, such a GA would count.)

    This, or the equivalent has been in the open literature for years, even decades. So, no responsible person has a right to assert that “ID is not falsifiable then there is no factual basis for it (or against it).”

    To say that sort of thing in teh teeth of abundant and easily accessible evidence to the contrary is inexcusable.

    And, the problem with ID is not that it is unfalsifiable or that it has been falsified — many strawman calims tothe contrary notwithstanding — but that it is supported by a solid induction but cuts across the dominant Lewontinian a priori materialist school of thought of the day.

    In short, ID — on abundant evidence of the observed origin of dFSCI — is challenging the core theoretical and worldview commitments of an institutionalised orthodoxy in science today.

    THAT is why it is controversial.

    Cf here for details.

    GEM of TKI

  9. markf

    There is another way and I would guess that is what Sandefur meant. If ID is not falsifiable then there is no factual basis for it (or against it).

    That isn’t what Sandefur meant. He, like so many other ID critics, are quite confused on this point, to the point of being contradictory of their own position. I have no doubt that Sandefur does thing ID is religion, as he said in his post it is “religion masqurading as science”. Thus he probably believes ID isn’t falsifiable. On the other hand, he claims it is “factually” not correct. Well, that implies that it has been scientifically established to be incorrect…ie falsified through scientific experiment. If that is not the case, then his only basis for claiming it to be factually incorrect is his own opinion, or philosophical position, or whatever. But it can NOT be based on science, since to him ID isn’t scientific. Well who cares what Sandefur’s philosophical opinion is?

    He’s painted himself into a corner. On the one hand he wants to claim ID is a religious stance only. But if he takes that route, then he’s confirmed Luskin’s whole point! On the other hand, he wants to claim that ID is factually incorrect, implying that ID has somehow been falsified by science. But if that is the case, then what’s his beef with ID being discussed, even taught in a public school science class? He can’t have it both ways.

    What Sandefur and most of the anti-ID crowd don’t get is that there is no such thing as a worldview free science class. Rather what they want is to dictate that the worldview of philosophical naturalism, and ONLY philosophical naturalism (PN) is the starting point for all science, and therefore only THAT point of view can be taught in a science class. But, that goes to the heart of Luskin’s article.

    Of course, they try to weasel out of that by claiming that no, PN is not the starting point of science, but rather MN (methodological naturalism) is. But I’ve never once seen anyone explain the practical difference between PN and MN. If you claim that science can only be done if we pretend that PN is true, that is tantamount to saying that PN is true, and by extension any views contrary to PN are false. MN=PN and there’s no getting around it no matter how hard they try.

    They are quite confused on these points.

  10. But I’ve never once seen anyone explain the practical difference between PN and MN.

    ID, if it is to be a science, must employ methodological naturalism in practice.

    In order to implement Dembski’s explanatory filter you must classify an object as being the result of regularity, chance, or something else.

    The process of making these distinctions falls into the purview of mainstream science, using established methodologies.

    Even if you believe that no regular process can produce a particular object, you must use the methods of ordinary science to eliminate regularity as a cause.

  11. Carl writes, “The fact that most biologists think that ID is nonsense, perhaps?”

    Argument from authority, a common logical fallacy. It proves nothing.

    Scientific theories stand or fall on evidence, not consensus.

  12. Carl,

    The fact that most biologists think that ID is nonsense, perhaps?

    Is this your own conjecture? Or do you know why Sandefur claimed that “there is no factual basis for ID’s scientific claims”?

  13. Petrushka writes “ID, if it is to be a science, must employ methodological naturalism in practice.”

    Why? What’s so special about MN? This presupposes that anything we observe in nature will have a natural explanation, which is tantamount to saying PN is true. But what if that isn’t the case? What if there are indeed creative forces (ie a supernatural intelligence) that did, in fact, take actions that have empirical consequences in nature? How is MN supposed to help discover that? Rather than being necessary for science, MN excludes even the possibility that causal factors beyond nature could be at work. But if the truth of a matter under investigation is that its cause is beyond nature, MN won’t allow that even a live possibility, and thereby MN restricts what science can discover. The assumption with MN is that all natural phenomenon will ultimately yield to a natural explanation. That comes pretty close to importing full blown PN into the heart of science. And its why I continue to maintain the MN=PN and there’s no way around it.

  14. DonaldM
    Let’s suppose that the cause of something really is beyond nature. How would you propose going about determining that, if not by the methods of MN? What would your methodology be?

    Also, it’s not really true that MN excludes the possibility that causal factors beyond nature could be at work, it’s just that any such causes, if they existed, would be beyond our ability to understand, and would therefore be meaningless as an explanation.

    That’s essentially my problem with ID. It’s not that I think it’s impossible that life was designed by some supernatural creator, it’s just that such an explanation is not very interesting or useful. ID as it is currently proposed only represents the start of inquiry. Suppose we determine that something was designed. OK fine, now comes the real challenge: let’s figure out how it was designed. Until ID addresses that, it will continue to fail as a theory.

  15. Why? What’s so special about MN? This presupposes that anything we observe in nature will have a natural explanation…

    A simple look at the Explanatory Filter reveals that natural causes must be ruled out before considering design. This is not, in practice, any different from the methodology of mainstream science.

    What seems to be different about ID proponents is that many assume that if natural causes are not currently known, they never will be. A mainstream scientist looks at gaps in knowledge and sees opportunities for research.

    Regarding the vast quantity of functional information in genomes, an ID proponent calculates the odds of it coming together, but in general, does not consider this in a historical context.

    What the mainstream scientist asks is whether known processes can accumulate functional changes in genomes. He asks, for example, how many point mutations it would take to account for the differences between closely related species.

    He asks how many years are available for each mutation to occur and spread through a population — in other words, what is the rate of change.

    He asks whether this rate is consistent with observed rates of mutation, and with the geological evidence that defines the available time.

    All this needs to be part of the ID research program, for the simple reason that it is required for ruling out regularity as a cause.

    I might add, that this is the route taken by Michael Behe and Douglas Axe. If it were the rule in ID rather than the exception, ID could be formulate a testable scientific hypothesis.

  16. Petrushka,

    What seems to be different about ID proponents is that many assume that if natural causes are not currently known, they never will be. A mainstream scientist looks at gaps in knowledge and sees opportunities for research.

    I think the whole endeavor that you’re trying to articulate rests on an assumption of what is natural and what is super or even sub-natural. Before MN can be defended, the question addressing nature and super or sub-nature must be answered philosophically, but philosophically it can be answered in different ways. If a position of methodology rests on that which is only “natural” we must know what natural really and fully means.

  17. I think the whole endeavor that you’re trying to articulate rests on an assumption of what is natural and what is super or even sub-natural.

    I’m not defending MN except to say that it is implicit in the Explanatory Filter.

    ID proponents are free to explain how one rules out regular processes without knowing what processes exist.

    Or how you know what is regular without using proven methods to tease out regularities.

  18. Carl,

    You are, of course, making an appeal to authority. Not that I think that is always bad, but creationists are always being accused of, and criticized for, doing that with respect to the bible.

    Petrushka,

    I think that ID-ers do many of those things you suggested more often than you think. I bet those kinds of things are done at the evolutionary informatics lab. http://www.evoinfo.org/. Just a guess. I bet Bornagain77 could show you where creationists are doing some of those things too.

  19. Petrushka,

    ID proponents are free to explain how one rules out regular processes without knowing what processes exist.

    As are those who adhere to MN, they are also “free to explain how one rules in/out regular processes without knowing what processes exist.”

  20. As are those who adhere to MN, they are also “free to explain how one rules in/out regular processes without knowing what processes exist.”

    That’s what science is: finding regularities.

    I merely point out that the Explanatory Filter requires a good faith effort to find regularities.

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