The role of theism in science: A short answer for why intelligent design is not science, and why philosophy shouldn’t be taught in high school chemistry classes

This will be a short post, and so will confuse the long-winded but short-thought intelligent design advocates, especially those who claim to be philosophers, and especially those who claim to be philosophers of science who can see a role for intelligent design.

A short visit to Telic Thoughts last week produced a revelation that they have a new philosopher who wants to argue that intelligent design “philosophically” could be science, if. I answered that argument at some length, in lay terms, here: “Intelligent Design, a pig that does not fly.”

Dr. Francis Beckwith, at Baylor, appears to have dropped his campaign to teach philosophy in science classes since he rediscovered that God visits the Pope, and since he moved on to more serious philosophical pursuits and away from his practice of confusing people about the law of separation of church and state in America (especially confusing the Texas State Board of Education).  We hope Beckwith sticks with philosophy and stays out of Texas textbooks.

So there was a vacancy in the phalanx of defenders of intelligent design, in the slot reserved for company store philosohers. Dr. Brad Monton volunteered for the job.  Monton has a blog, here. Monton philosophizes at the University of Colorado.

What should be the role of theism in science?  Exactly this:  Theism should encourage scientists to be diligent, to be honest, to ask tough questions, and be kind.  Theism should encourage scientists to be wise stewards of their lab resources and time, and to share the fruits of their work with humanity, for the benefit of all creation (no, not “creationism”).

That’s it.  Honest and thorough, not mean.  Work quickly and true.

If scientists stick to the noble purposes of their work, using these noble methods, we will see a quick death to creationism and intelligent design, which clamor and riot to be included in the science texts though they have not a lick of evidence to support them that is honest, true and nobly gained.

Philosophical debates do not belong in high school science classes, nor middle school or elementary school science classes.  The fun of science, the honest ethics of science, the value of science, and the stuff of science are appropriate topics for those science classes.  Especially school kids should not be encouraged to offer unevidenced, petulent denials of the facts as we know them.  That will only encourage them to become larcenists, disturbed individuals, and Republican state legislators.  Heaven knows we don’t need those.

Wes Elsberry agrees at his blog, The Austringer, but with more felicity:

The issue is not whether science could make progress in spite of re-adoption of 17th century theistic science, but whether theistic science could provide any benefit to the methods of science today. Monton, Plantinga, and the neo-Luddites have not convincingly made that case. Mostly, they haven’t even badly made that case. They seem to assume that science would be better off reverting to 17th century theistic science and become perplexed when scientists disagree with them. We had that debate, we call it “the 19th century”. Nobody has shown that the mostly-theistic body of scientists who decided to eschew supernatural conjectures as part of science were wrong to do so. Mostly, I think, because they were right to do so, and their reasoning still applies today.

Monton seeks a publisher.  I wish he’d seek a course in botany, another in zoology, another in genetics, and one in evolution.  He might find something worth publishing, then.

Philosophically, anything fits in science, if there is evidence to support it, and especially if there is theory that supports it and offers solid explanations that can be relied upon. But we don’t teach philosophy to kids.  We teach the kids the evidence.  Philosophically, any voodoo science could be considered science, if there were evidence to support it.  Philosophically, the FAA should regulate flying pigs that pose a threat to commercial and general aviation.  Pragmatically, however, pigs don’t fly.  In regulation of our air space, and in our science classes, we rely on theory backed by hard evidence.  I wish theists would all agree on that point, and shut up about intelligent design until some institute of discovery actually provides research results that provide evidence that ID is science, rather than philosophy.

See?  I said it would be short.

10 Responses to The role of theism in science: A short answer for why intelligent design is not science, and why philosophy shouldn’t be taught in high school chemistry classes

  1. […] don’t other philosophers — Beckwith, Monton and Dembski come to mind — adopt similarly rational […]


  2. […] It’s our old buddy Bradley Monton, the darling of Telic Thoughts. […]


  3. RBH says:

    Hannah J wrote

    Ed, the unstated assumption I see you making is that ID is religion. Please demonstrate that more thoroughly to me; from what I’ve read about both ID and creationism, there appears a distinction.

    Two words: “cdesign proponentists.”


  4. j a higginbotham says:

    Hannah J
    * Gender: Female
    * Astrological Sign: Virgo
    * Industry: Science
    * Occupation: Hopefully a biology teacher

    Although I like math and am good at it, I like biology more.

    The Renaissance Biologist

    An opinionated blogger interested in nearly everything. A possible exception is football. If the Packers win because the other team got infected with a mysterious infection, I may post on that. Mainly it’ll be biology, with a little politics, religion, etc. thrown in.

    * Nashida Hakim
    * Hannah J


  5. […] at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, there’s discussion of the theism-in-science issue. Among the questions, one popped up that […]


  6. The principle is simple enough: two things with the same content are the same thing, no matter if their labels differ. A person using an alias is not another person. And intelligent design creationism is a proper subset of the argumentation used by previous forms of creationism. The things left out of the IDC subset are simply those calculated to confuse the legal system into falsely inferring that there is some difference from the creationism that went before. It is what the SCOTUS in 1987 perceptively called a sham. The 2005 Kitzmiller decision correctly cited the 1987 decision on exactly that issue.


  7. Ediacaran says:

    Hannah, that ID is religion is not an assumption, but demonstrated fact. Here are some quotes from ID advocates courtesy of Physics and Astronomy Professors at Southern Methodist University who debunk “Intelligent Design” Creationism and expose it as religious hucksterism:

    The first few should clear up your misunderstanding:

    “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.”

    –William Dembski, Signs of intelligence: A primer on the discernment of intelligent design. Touchstone 12(4) (Jul/Aug 1999): 76-84.

    “[…] the conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ”

    –William Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge between Science and Theology, 1998, p. 209

    “Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools.”

    –Phillip Johnson, American Family Radio, 10 January 2003.

    [Phil Johnson is the lawyer to whom Ed was referring.]

    “there are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.”

    –Michael Behe, 2005

    “Father’s words, my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism.”

    –Jonathan Wells, Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.
    (Incidentally, the person whom Wells calls “Father” is Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church which is also known as the “Moonies” and the Washington Times.)

    Eric Rothschild: But you are clear, under your definition, the definition that sweeps in intelligent design, astrology is also a scientific theory, correct?
    Michael Behe: Yes, that’s correct.

    –Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, Trial transcript: Day 11 (October 18, 2005), PM Session, Part 1

    “We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture.”

    –Ray Mummert, Dover PA pastor

    Don’t fall for Dembski’s double-speak, as in the following (it repeats in full one of the partial quotes from the profs at SMU):

    ‘William Dembski, author of Intelligent Design (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), is a case in point. On the one hand, Dembski tells us (p. 252): “Intelligent design is a strictly scientific theory devoid of religious commitments.” But, on p. 209, he says: “So, too, Christology tells us that the conceptual soundness of a scientific theory cannot be maintained apart from Christ.” ‘
    (my source:


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    Hannah, ID was invented by a lawyer in California for the stated purpose of pushing creationism into public schools. It is supported almost solely by religious partisans (David Berlinski notwithstanding; he’s just bizarre, but dishonest enough to earn a “fellow” designation from the Discovery Institute.)

    There is no hypothesis for intelligent design. The closest any ID advocate ever came was Michael Behe’s 1994 assertion of irreducible complexity. All of his examples have been discovered to have clear evolutionary origins. Nothing in biology has been found that is irreducibly complex. So, if you’re resting a claim for ID’s being science on Behe, it’s been disproven.

    At the Pennsylvania trial ID advocates were unable to make a case that there is science behind ID. They were unable to state any hypotheses offered by ID. They were unable to identify any ID research being conducted, anywhere in the world. Under oath, the experts testified they have no additional evidence not already on the record to suggest that ID is science. Under oath, they could offer no distinction between the ID movement and any other religious movement.

    This isn’t unstated in any form. There is no science behind ID. None. If there were science behind it, that science could be offered in science classes. Since there is no such science, however, ID remains to science as a flying pig is to FAA regulation of pig farms — philosophically possible, but pragmatically and evidentiarily untenable. Until pigs do fly, the FAA can’t regulate pig farms. Until science is discovered in ID, there’s nothing to teach in science classes.

    Which, incidentally, is the formal position of the Discovery Institute: Don’t teach it in high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools.


  9. HannahJ says:

    Ed, the unstated assumption I see you making is that ID is religion. Please demonstrate that more thoroughly to me; from what I’ve read about both ID and creationism, there appears a distinction.


  10. Geolub says:

    Humanism or Naturalism can be substituted for Theism with no dissonance. All “Honest, thorough and not mean.” These world-views (and others) all play a role and no role at all in scientific pursuits. Evidence has no regard for one’s “ism”.


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