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Discussion 4 to Meditation 48
The arguments of Mr. Hancock stand neither individually or collectively.

by: Chris Warren

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It is sad that proponents of Intelligent Design persist on making the same arguments that have been refuted time and time again.  This forces those of us who are trying to promote science and rational thought to expend efforts to redundantly address them, lest this viral form of willful ignorance propagate even further.  Fortunately, on an individual basis, this is not a Herculean task as the arguments of Mr. Hancock stand neither individually or collectively.

First, let us start with the statement that "Science began with the premise that all was created by God and that man had only to discover the principles God set in motion."  Mr. Hancock then moves on to Isaac Newton, one supposes as the seminal figure of science.  The study of the universe and its processes far predate Newton, Christianity, and can easily be shown to be completely seperate from the rise of the Abrahamic religions.  Look at the works of astronomy done by the Mayans and the classical Greeks just to name two.  Neither had a monotheistic tradition, and several prominent Greek philosophers were wholly atheistic.  Examine the works of the non-theistic ancient Chinese in chemistry.  Mathematics was studied in Egypt in a time long before monotheism touched their culture.  This statement is clearly and demonstrably false.

Mister Hancock then goes on to the old saw about how evolution is but a "theory."  This plays on the weak understanding of some in the general populace of the difference between the colloquial and scientific defintion of a "theory."  The colloquial definition of theory is "An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture."  In the sciences, however, a theory is defined as "a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena" (both definitions courtesy of Mirriam-Webster).

This is an enormous difference and a vital distinction.  Scientific theories are under contant scrutiny, compared to observable test results.  They must be "falsifiable."  This means that unless it is possible to disprove it via testing and observation, it's not a scientific theory.  It is also helpful to remember that gravity is a theory.  The Newtonian theories of gravity were apparently correct, but were still that -- theories.  Objects seemed to behave consistently in accordance with those theories for almost three hundred years, when relativity theory made science take a closer look and realize Newton wasn't exactly correct.  The theory of gravity was then updated to reflect all observable behavior of the universe.  And yet, gravity is still just a theory.  In fact, science understands less about gravity, where there is considerable ignorance about the actual mechanics of the effect, than it does about evolution which has a clearly observable mechanism.

Mr. Hancock then goes on to equate evolutionism with creationism because neither are "facts."  As I have shown, neither is gravity, but the chances of an "Intelligent Falling" movement that argues that things move toward each other because God wants them to, and we should abandon gravity in physics classes is slim.  Arguing that theories should not be taught in science is clearly not a reasonable argument.  The argument that Mr. Hancock does not make that most of the ID movement does is that ID is itself a theory and should thus be taught as an alternative.

While more attractive that the obviously fallacious proposition forwarded by Mr. Hancock, this argument does no better under even casual scrutiny.  Intelligent Design does not offer any theory that can be tested and verified -- the very cornerstone of science.  By the same count, it fails the falsifiability test above -- there is no way to falsily a theory that posits forces outside physical reality.  ID is clearly not science, and does not belong in a science classroom.  Philosophy?  History of Religion?  Certainly.  But it is clearly not science.

This is not a law journal, but given that Mr. Hancock made some erroneous and misleading statements on that count too, it's at least worth a cursory examination of those points.  Nowhere in the discussion of Kitzmiller v. Dover, the case in review in this discussion does Judge Jones quote a Constitutional "seperation of church and state."  He does, however, correctly refer to the U.S. Supreme Court case Everson v. Board of Education (1947) which states

“The establishment of religion clause means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government may set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion... . Neither a state or the federal government may, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and state.'"

Mr. Hancock also refers indirectly to the case Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).  His referral is meaningless as Edwards actually set no new precedent.  A summary reading of the majority decision shows that the law in question in that case was evaluated under the standards set by the 1971 case Lemon v. Kurtzman.  Actually, the parallels between Edwards and the recent Kitzmiller case are extensive.  Both decisions were made by applying what is known as the Lemon test to the action in question.  In both cases, it was found that the governmental agency acted incorrectly on all three questions, namely:

  1. Is the action being undertaken for a secular reason?  In Edwards, the courts found that the purported secular reason for the case was a transparent fallacy.  The Kitzmiller decision found identically.
  2. Does the action neither advance nor inhibit religion?  In Edwards, the courts found that the law in question was specifically written and promoted to advance a Christian agenda.  In the Kitzmiller case, the ruling was identical and furthermore ruled that "Intelligent Design" was only a repackaging without a change in content of the rejected Edwards "Creationist Science."
  3. Does the action create an unnecessary entanglement of the government with religion?  Again, in both cases, the courts said yes.

The U.S. Supreme Court is given the power to make such interpretations under the Constitution, and no court since has reversed this decision.  Jones' ruling was entirely consistent with Lemon, Everson, and with several other subsequent decisions touching on the topic.  It stands as a correct ruling of properly precedented law.

Thus, Mr. Hancock's arguments stand neither individually nor coherently.  He's arguing bad conclusions from false premises using faulty logic.  Judge Jones made the correct decision based on history, science, logic, and the law.