Elective Affinities

by Kieran Healy on March 24, 2004

Interesting, but also a bit demoralizing, to see the bloggers of the Harvard Law Federalist Society on the side of Intelligent Design Theory. (See Cosma Shalizi and Brian Leiter for context.) Maybe it’s only a short hop from originalism about the Founding Fathers to creationism about God the Father. They’d probably describe themselves as being on the side of free speech and free thought rather than pseudo-science and sophistry, though their hysterical description of Leiter’s criticisms as “thuggish,” “vicious,” “naked threats” leads me to think that Harvard Law students are a lot more thin-skinned than they ought to be. My own view is that people who subscribe to Intelligent Design theory need to have the perverse mechanics of childbirth explained to them.

Update: For somewhat more in-depth and professional commentary on ID and evolution, check out the newly-formed Panda’s Thumb group blog.

{ 69 comments }

1

marky 03.24.04 at 5:52 pm

Well, it’s not as bad as if a philosopher’s blog from Harvard came down on the side of Intelligent Design. This just proves to me that lawyers are not the brightest bunch everywhere, even at Harvard.

2

mm 03.24.04 at 6:25 pm

Well, surely Brian Leiter, who describes himself as a the victim of a “smear job” and claims to be bringing a defamation suit, is just a thin-skinned.

3

Paul Orwin 03.24.04 at 6:27 pm

Wow,
I didn’t realize that grade inflation had gotten so bad that just about anyone can now get into Harvard Law School. Reading that blog makes me very concerned for our future (yes, it’s ad hominem; go read it for yourself if you don’t believe me).

4

Kieran Healy 03.24.04 at 6:29 pm

and claims to be bringing a defamation suit

No, he doesn’t.

5

GMT 03.24.04 at 7:12 pm

From this Texan’s perspective, there’s nothing surprising about this at all. A specious past is as useful as an imaginary spectre, to the creative, and these are the two flavors deployed by that ideology. You will also find strong correlations with gender, ethnicity, brand of clothing, browser favorites, hairstyles, taste in women, etc.

Those on the right who do not subscribe to this particular set of metaphysics have to enter through a sort of servants’ entrance, labled “Neocon.”

6

JM 03.24.04 at 7:14 pm

The ID family already has an age-old explanation for the fact that enormous infant crania must fit through a small cervical opening chock full of receptors:

“In pain shalt thou bring forth children.”

They believe God told this to Eve. Adam, on the other hand, they believe, was told by God that he would earn his bread by heavy labor. And, the ID family believes, both halves of the Initial Speciation Pair were told the same day by their infinitely intelligent designer that they were going to some day wear out and die. That’s what we get for not being perfect.

If one can believe the perverse mechanics of human mortality can result from the reasoned judgment of an intelligent designer, accepting childbirth should be – God! – oh, so simple.

See also: blogtitle, above.

We are Crooked Timber. Death be not proud.

7

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 7:15 pm

I must tread carefully here, lest I get myself banned, or get the thread closed down.

Simple question: does anyone here – especially those who have read Mr. Van Dyke’s response to Prof. Leiter – really believe that Mr. Van Dyke in his book note was guilty of *fraud*? I.e., that he deliberately endorsed claims that he knew to be false?

Second simple question: does anyone here really believe that public accusations of fraud *issuing from a tenured professor of law* at a major University are mere trivialities, concerning which one ought not to be too “thin-skinned?”

Please think before you reply. Thinking, as Edmund Blackadder informs us, is *so* important.

8

praktike 03.24.04 at 7:19 pm

Nobody’s more informative on I.D. than Carl Zimmer.

9

Kieran Healy 03.24.04 at 7:20 pm

“In pain shalt thou bring forth children.” … Adam, on the other hand, they believe, was told by God that he would earn his bread by heavy labor.

Ah. Is that supposed to explain the crappy design of the lower back? Maybe carpal tunnel syndrome as well? Myopia? Halitosis? Pattern baldness? PMS?

10

mm 03.24.04 at 7:21 pm

Kieran, how do you read the references to “counts” of the “defamation suit” in Mr. Leiter’s 3/17/04 posting?

11

Marky 03.24.04 at 7:21 pm

Isn’t anyone who supports Intelligent Design guilty of scholarly fraud? What’s the problem?

12

honest abe 03.24.04 at 7:26 pm

Having just reread the critique, it is clear the primary charge was one of gross scholarly incompetence, perhaps literally fraudulent, perhaps not, but still scandalous. The charge seems amply supported, both by Leiter and by those who responded to VanDyke’s rather muddled replies.

13

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 7:28 pm

Marky:

The concept of “fraud” involves *intentional deception*.

That is what makes it a *moral*, rather than a merely intellectual, error.

Get it?

14

Matt Brown 03.24.04 at 7:31 pm

I think the Fed Society does have a point when they say Brian is being too harsh. I hate to stand up for the ID folks, but Brian has very strong feelings on this subject that leads him to bring his considerable critical acumen to bear harshly on those on the wrong side. Brian seemed to be attacking the reviewer as presenting as fact what seemed obviously presented as the opinion of the author. It isn’t to say that the review wasn’t sloppy, it probably was. But it probably didn’t deserve quite the trashing it got.

15

honest abe 03.24.04 at 7:36 pm

Too much is being made out of the use of the word “fraud,” which wasn’t being used literally and which isn’t even the main issue. Here are some quotes from the critique that Kieran linked to:

“Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.”

“Consider just a few of the factual errors and misleading innuendoes from the opening paragraphs of the review”

“Shame on the Harvard Law Review for abandoning its own standard editorial practices in this case. This Book Note never could have survived real fact-checking. It never could have survived critical evaluation by experts. This is not the first time, of course, that the Harvard Law Review has published incompetent nonsense (it surely won’t be the last, either!), but it’s the first time I can recall where the incompetence of the piece turns so heavily on failure to state positions and arguments correctly and, relatedly, failure to cite relevant literature.”

Incompetence is the main charge. That charge seems justified by Leiter, Brayton, and others who have commented on this.

UPDATE: This blogger is correct that at many places in the preceding I should have referred to “cite-checking” not “fact-checking,” though that doesn’t affect the basic points.

Posted by Brian Leiter at March 10, 2004 09:29 AM

16

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 7:37 pm

“honest” abe:

So if “fraud” was merely a *secondary* charge (even though it was stated explicitly, emphatically, and reiterated) it doesn’t matter whether or not it was totally baseless?

Are you serious?

17

T. Gracchus 03.24.04 at 7:41 pm

There are several kinds of evidence for the claim that Leiter is not suing for defamation. First, he has said he isn’t going to sue for defamation. That was simply a joke, and, I must say, pretty obviously so, because, second, as Leiter knows, the elements of defamation are not present. For example, no actual damages. Leiter has not lost income for example, and there is no harm to his reputation (perhaps the opposite is true).

18

honest abe 03.24.04 at 7:41 pm

Wow you are really quick! But why resort to insults so quickly? I was just making the point that fraud wasn’t being literally charged, as the quotations made clear. On your other point, I agree that you don’t have to be thin-skinned to be upset by such a critique. But I would think the main reason for being upset is that the criticisms are fair.

19

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 7:44 pm

“honest” abe:

What makes you think that Prof. Leiter’s repeated and emphatic accusation of “scholarly fraud” was intended to be merely figurative?

Other than the fact that it is blatantly false?

20

Kieran Healy 03.24.04 at 7:44 pm

mm: Kieran, how do you read the references to “counts” of the “defamation suit” in Mr. Leiter’s 3/17/04 posting?

I read it as them sensible person would — as a rhetorical device meant to reinforce the point that Leiter is making in detail in that post, viz, that the NRO article is clearly misrepresenting his criticisms and falsely claiming that he was personally threatening Van Dyke’s career.

21

honest abe 03.24.04 at 7:46 pm

Well, first it’s not repeated if you read the whole piece, and second he says Van Dyke has perpetrated (intentionally or otherwise) a scholarly fraud. But if it were literally fraud, it couldn’t be intentional or not.

I’m done with this now, it’s just not that interesting.

22

raj 03.24.04 at 7:54 pm

Leiter must be an example of Harvard Law School’s affirmative action for the scientifically challenged. His reference to ID as a “theory” is laughable in the extreme. As is his suggestion that ID is not a stalking horse for creationism.

It appears that Leiter is also an example of HLS putting the legally challenged on its law review, as well. His comment suggesting that any presentation in public schools of any origins theory that alludes to a “designer” violates the establishment clause is preposterous. ID and creationism cannot be taught in science class in public schools for the simple reason that they are not science: there is no evidence for either. They could be taught, for example, in a comparative religion course in the public schools. The problem is, however, that most of those who are pushing for them to be taught do not want them taught as part of a comparative religion curriculum: they want them taught as fact. And that is why they will not be taught in public schools, at least in general.

23

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 7:56 pm

“honest” abe:

Prof. Leiter wrote as follows:

“*scholarly fraud* is, I fear, an inauspicious beginning for an aspiring law teacher. And let none of the many law professors who are readers of this site be mistaken: Mr. VanDyke has perpetrated a *scholarly fraud*…”

What’s your definition of “repeated?”

24

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 8:02 pm

raj:

Please note that Prof. Leiter and Mr. Van Dyke are not the same person.

25

Russell L. Carter 03.24.04 at 8:04 pm

Vinteuil is having a bit of trouble discerning that the ID vs. all-of-evolutionary-science “debate” is not about a difference of opinion. To support ID is to either: (1) intentionally deceive, or (2) reveal a rather impressive level of stupidity. The targets are at Harvard, Harvard has a reputation (perhaps not accurate) of intellectual accomplishment, so guilt in some nontrivial form of (1) then follows.

26

mm 03.24.04 at 8:09 pm

Ok, Kieran, make it “pretends to be bringing a defamation suit, in a manner that some lawyers (i.e., me) think could be serious, though maybe it isn’t.” Still a pretty thin-skinned over-reaction. I mean, I read a lot of back and forth in intellectual journals and this is the first time I have seen the rhetorical device of enumerating the writer’s points as counts of a defamation suit.

As to those who say the threat couldn’t be serious because the suit wouldn’t succeed, I remind you that Lillian Hellman really did bring a defamation suit over Mary McCarthy’s essentially rhetorical comments.

27

Kieran Healy 03.24.04 at 8:29 pm

Ok, Kieran, make it “pretends to be bringing a defamation suit, in a manner that some lawyers (i.e., me) think could be serious, though maybe it isn’t.” Still a pretty thin-skinned over-reaction. I mean, I read a lot of back and forth in intellectual journals and this is the first time I have seen the rhetorical device of enumerating the writer’s points as counts of a defamation suit.

I don’t think this is going to wash. Talking in clearly rhetorical way about a defamation suit (while backing up the substantive complaint about being misrepresented) strikes me as a lot less thin-skinned than all the stuff over at the Federalist blog, going on as it does about “his naked threats poison the debate and reveal that he is more interested in silencing the opposition than in proving them wrong” and describing the post variously as “thuggish”, “vicious”, “scurrilous”, “crude idiocy” and, especially once again, absurdly pretending that Leiter was somehow about to make it his mission to ruin Van Dyke’s academic career.

As to those who say the threat couldn’t be serious because the suit wouldn’t succeed, I remind you that Lillian Hellman really did bring a defamation suit over Mary McCarthy’s essentially rhetorical comments.

Um, except in that case is was McCarthy who was being rhetorical and Hellman who sued, while in this case it’s just Leiter alone clearly being rhetorical about suing.

28

Vinteuil 03.24.04 at 8:39 pm

Mr. Carter:

Your argument would appear to run as follows:

(1) HLS students have a reputation for intellectual accomplishment.

(2) Only impressively stupid people could believe in ID.

(3) Therefore any HLS student who defends ID must be engaging in intentional deception.

Frankly, only an impressively stupid person would accept the validity of this argument. Yet I do not charge you with intentional deception. Luckily, I do not judge you by your own standards.

29

raj 03.24.04 at 8:40 pm

Vinteuil at March 24, 2004 08:02 PM

I stand corrected. It was VanDyke that my post should have referenced.

30

Steve Carr 03.24.04 at 8:41 pm

Kieran, I confess to being a little mystified by your willingness to invest so much effort in defending Leiter. I’d never actually read Leiter’s blog until your initial post about the Van Dyke controversy. Having now waded through pages of his pompous, overbearing, and obnoxious prose, I can’t see how writing about him is worth your time. It goes without saying that he’s on the right side of the ID debate, and that the original HLR note is absurd and that the NR’s disclosure policy leaves something to be desired. But it also seems clear that Leiter is, not to put too fine a point on it, an asshole. It’s good that he’s fighting the good fight, but you’ve got better things to do than defend his rhetorical style or his bizarrely self-important manner.

31

Kieran Healy 03.24.04 at 8:50 pm

Steve — I’m not in this thread to defend Brian Leiter (he’s well able to defend himself), I’m just ticked off at the ID crowd, NRO online, and the Harvard Federalist blog in particular, all of whom seem ready to cry wolf, move the goalposts, deliberately miss the point, misrepresent the evidence, nitpick to the break of dawn — do anything but anything, in fact, to avoid confronting the very large amount of excellent evidence that they are wrong to present ID theory as a credible but somehow suppressed scientific competitor to modern evolutionary biology.

32

Steve Carr 03.24.04 at 9:33 pm

Kieran, I understand being ticked off at that crowd. But three of your four posts in this thread (not including your response to me) are defending Leiter, and when Chris made his initial post (sorry, I thought that was yours, too) Brian Weatherson devoted a good deal of time to defending Leiter as well. I’m being serious when I say that I think this is an unworthy use of CT’s time and energy. Leiter’s rhetorical style is guaranteed — in fact, it seems almost willfully designed –to alienate anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. Defending it, either implicitly or explicitly, makes little sense to me.

33

Peter H. 03.24.04 at 10:00 pm

Well put, Steve Carr. While Leiter effectively demolishes the HLR piece and the attendant ID arguments, his pompousness makes it an ambivalent experience. Crooked Timber is right to expose the intellectual fraud of the HLR piece and the NRO follow-up, but Leiter–from the evidence of his blog–is a highly unpleasant character.

34

Keith M Ellis 03.24.04 at 10:43 pm

Leiter’s pissed-off, and rightly so. I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments about creationists and the ID people; and I don’t think for a second that VanDyke wasn’t out-of-line with his review—he greatly exceeded his expertise and presented bullshit as fact.

However…the fact of the matter is that Leiter has made a decision to press his case utilizing a very aggressive rhetorical manner. That has consequences. Hyperbole has consequences. And usually those consequences include decreased credibility and escalating hostility. Worse, the rhetoric and its implications become the center of the argument rather than, you know, what actually matters.

Given that the ID people can’t win an argument on the merits of ID, Leiter is playing into their hands by giving them something else to work with.

35

Russell L. Carter 03.24.04 at 11:01 pm

Yes Vinteuil, your restatement is accurate. And I note that you don’t dispute my observation that the validity of ID vs. the pertinent science is not a matter of opinion; where there is evidence that can be examined, ID has been completely discredited. Given these known facts, what are the most likely reason(s) that Mr. Van Dyke wrote what he did? Is there a valid reason not to apply Occam’s razor, other than it really doesn’t produce a very happy outcome for Mr Van Dyke’s professional reputation?

There’s been some negative reactions to the tone of ID debunkers, notably Leiter. Before I waded through all this stuff on account of parental responsibility and all that, I was more inclined to look benignly on IDers as misguided but harmless. However, it came as quite a shock to learn that IDers are attempting to hijack state schools curriculum, and they’re having some success, in the main by endlessly iterating this garbage that there is somehow a debate about the validity of evolution. The end result is to degrade the ability of the already sorry public schools to effectively teach students about the world around them. I have come to realize that it is just a part of the conservative agenda to degrade and effectively destroy the public school system, in support of vouchers for private, notably religious, schools. And that really really pisses me off, and I’m not the only one. I don’t care at all what people teach in religious schools, just leave my daughter’s secular public school alone. (Leiter’s got kids too, BTW)

36

Russell L. Carter 03.25.04 at 12:01 am

Sheesh don’t bother with my comment, Kevin Drum is much more effective. Kevin votes for stupidity as the operative explanation for Van Dyke’s blurb.

37

Chris 03.25.04 at 12:49 am

I wouldn’t consider embracing pseudoscience to be stupid per se, only ignorant. It’s this tone that causes people to hate and ignore academics. We need to converse with the public, not call names.

This whole episode does highlight the absurdity of lawyers talking about evolution or of linguists talking about economics. Someone might innocently mistake these people as experts in a field quite unrelated to their own.

38

Vinteuil 03.25.04 at 12:53 am

Mr. Carter: all sorts of intellectually accomplished people sincerely believe all sorts of completely discredited things. For example, I still encounter apparently smart and well-informed leftists who believe that Alger Hiss and Julius Rosenberg were innocent of espionage, and who are absolutely indefatigable in their efforts to get their view of the cold war enshrined in school curricula. I think such people are wrong. I think that their empirical judgments are being driven by a dangerous ideological agenda. I think they ought to be stopped. But in general they are *not* intentionally deceiving anyone. They really believe what they are saying and some of them can even make a case for their position that seems superficially plausible to the uninitiated. So I would consider it well within my rights to call them silly, ignorant, incompetent, and so on. But they are *not* guilty of fraud. And that matters.

The same goes for the present case, *mutatis mutandis*.

39

Keith M Ellis 03.25.04 at 1:15 am

Someone might innocently mistake these people as experts in a field quite unrelated to their own.“—Chris

..he says, slyly. Or perhaps that was unintentional. But such false but implied expertise is the bread and butter of creationism.

When I’ve been critical of this sort of thing, I’ve often gotten the response of the type, “But do you have genuine expertise on everything you write about?” And, of course, I don’t.

However, there is a difference. I’m not a scientist. I’m not even an academic. I don’t have implicit intellectual authority. One only has to consider the popular portrayals of scientists in TV and film to see that the public obviously thinks that expertise in, say, particle physics also implies expertise in molecular biology, materials science, mechanical engineering, computer science, anthropology, and organic chemistry. Because the general public is so ignorant as to think this, the average scientist has a public responsibility to clearly distinguish his expertise and his ignorance when acting in the public sphere. Sadly, many do not. I strongly suspect that they themselves forget (or don’t realize) how little they know outside their field of expertise.

This is true of all highly educated people. I think it is a very serious vice, though common.

Not incidentally, I think this sort of responsibility also especially applies to celebrities. Like scientists, they have a special sort of influence, a special sort of credibility that is inherently a moral responsibility. People that have this public credibility have a bad history of forgetting the limited context in which it was earned.

40

Brian Weatherson 03.25.04 at 1:27 am

I’m not sure how much marginal utility is being added on this thread, so I just thought I’d note that Kevin Drum thinks “Leiter probably went too easy on the guy”:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_03/003541.php.

41

Keith M Ellis 03.25.04 at 1:30 am

Yes, Russell Carter already linked that post.

42

john c. halasz 03.25.04 at 2:19 am

I’ve been struck before by how many of the proponents of ID are lawyers. What’s the old lawyer’s maxim? “If the facts are against you, argue the law; if the law is against you, argue the facts; if both are against you, attack your opponent”?

43

HW 03.25.04 at 2:27 am

I think Leiter was awfully harsh–but if my kids were in a school system threatened by this creationist claptrap I’d be steamed, too. I also sympathize with Leiter’s attack because of the use to which Van Dyke’s Note will be put. Legal academics, and lawyers who were on their school’s law review, will recognize that a “Note” is a student publication, distinct from an Article which is (usually) by a prof. People who didn’t go to law school won’t recognize the difference. Had Leiter not pounced on Van Dyke’s piece when it appeared, it likely would have been cited for years as “An article in the Harvard Law Review which supported ID…” It’ll be tougher to do that after Leiter’s attack (which might explain why ID proponents are so mad at Leiter).

This, of course, raises a different question: what the hell were the editors of the Harvard Law Review thinking when they accepted Van Dyke’s piece for publication? Not every piece submitted to a Law Review gets published, even if the author is an editor of the Law Review. Why’d the other editors approve it?

44

Ophelia Benson 03.25.04 at 2:37 am

Good question. An enterprising and energetic reader of Butterflies and Wheels actually emailed one of the members of the board of the HLR after reading Chris Mooney’s article on the Van Dyke matter (which I’d linked to) and asked him that very question.

45

Amber 03.25.04 at 3:18 am

I’d like to register my dissent; not all the HLS Federalists agree with what was posted on the blog.

46

steve carr 03.25.04 at 4:11 am

Brian’s probably right that we’ve hit the point of diminishing returns, but . . . the idea that the tone of Leiter’s response reflects his deeply-felt anger at the unique stupidity of the IDers, or at the threat that they pose (pace Russell) to the minds of his children, is simply wrong. If you go through Leiter’s posts, he adopts a similarly vituperative and pompous tone with everyone he disagrees with. “No one modestly rational writes for the NY Times.” “Anyone with a 8th-grade education” knows that the United States poses a greater threat to world stability than Saddam did. The discussions on the Volokh Conspiracy are “intellectually pathetic and morally depraved.” This is how Leiter likes it: he makes no bones about believing that civility is unimportant (and perhaps even actively harmful). But the fact that he knows he’s a jerk doesn’t make him any less of one, nor is it any reason to defend him.

47

amused 03.25.04 at 4:33 am

Mr. Carr, were any of those things in quotes actually supposed to be things Leiter said? Where exactly did he say, for example, that anyone with an 8th-grade education knows that the US is a greater threat to world stability than Saddam? I looked and couldn’t find it.

Just curious, and a bit amused.

48

Russell L. Carter 03.25.04 at 4:54 am

Some idiot wrote this:

“Kevin votes for stupidity as the operative explanation for Van Dyke’s blurb”

And nobody points out that out of the binary choice it was the wrong one? And Steve Carr, you apparently haven’t been reading up on the frontlines of the ID war. Try pharyngula for Leiteresque literate viciousness with value added humor not usually seen on this here blog. Anti-ID is not just Leiter, and the anger is not restricted to him.

49

John Casey 03.25.04 at 5:10 am

Y’know, the content of the Harvard Law Review is completely under the control of the Editor in Chief and the other 3rd year students on the editorial board. These are (or at least, they used to be) the creme de la creme of the HLS student body. Forget Van Dyke. What in the world were these other folks thinking of? It is a disgrace to a once proud tradition of excellence.

50

Greg Hunter 03.25.04 at 7:42 am

I do not see the fuss, unless the opponents of Religion are so vehement in their beliefs that they attack anyone who proposes any alternative explanation of the Bible. I am certain his science is flawed, as all have pointed out, but that does not mean that ID could not have happened. It is obvious that the ID people have modified their hocus pocus belief in how God created the world into a more scientific view. I consider that progress.

But I live in Ohio and the ID debate is representative of the alliance between Christians and Corporations that Republicans created to win offices at all levels of State Government and also makes Ohio a “bellwether” State for the up coming Presidential elections. The election of these types of people allows the promulgation of ID, as well as many other “Taliban Style” edicts. I live here and while you can poke fun at Ohio and it’s ID issues, I have to fight this kind of stuff the only way they understand, which is use the Bible and it’s teachings.

It appears that most liberals and Democrats have dismissed the bible and take for granted that the rest of the world should dismiss it as well. As we can see by all of the strife in the world, the casting off of religion will not happen in this generation or the next, so you better pick up the Bible or Koran and start using it’s teaching to make a better world. The bashing of religion does not play well in Ohio and based on actions taken by the US, Ohio is where the Republicans get their ideas.

Scary

51

mc 03.25.04 at 8:52 am

Wow. Just when you thought you’d heard it already… Adam and Eve… all right… so how do those ‘ID’ people differ from creationists and fundamentalists?

Just the fact that they’re at Harvard instead of preaching from a God Tv Channel, right?

Now I’m confused, but can anyone explain what that sort of thing has to do with a Law faculty?

52

bad Jim 03.25.04 at 10:02 am

The explanatory power of ID is vastly expanded when the notion that “the devil is in the details” is taken seriously.

Imperfection is only an argument against an infallible creator. It’s entirely consistent with an incompetent demiurge or an assortment of deities differing in skill, foresight and beneficence.

Most creatures, when examined in detail, appear to be products of committees with inadequate internal communications. Since admission of failure is impermissible, a devil must be summoned into existence to be called to account.

53

Iain J Coleman 03.25.04 at 10:45 am

So does Harvard Law School have a quota system for thick people, or what?

54

praktike 03.25.04 at 11:55 am

is that THE Matt Young of “Reagan was a communist” and “Nancy Pelosi runs a death cult” fame?

The mind reels.

55

raj 03.25.04 at 12:38 pm

>>So does Harvard Law School have a quota system for thick people, or what?

When I was applying to law schools in the early 1970s, HLS’s application stated that students in engineering (and I was one) need not apply. I would not doubt that they have since expanded that to students in the various (real) sciences (in which I include physics–I was also educated in physics–chemistry and biology).

56

mc 03.25.04 at 2:05 pm

Greg, I don’t understand how granting these ID supporters the respect they deserve, ie. none, equals “bashing religion”. If anything, seems to me that creationism and all such literal, obtuse readings of biblical texts are also very _anti-religious_.

If fundamentalists don’t get that, well, too bad, but they don’t get to define what religion is for everybody, do they?

57

Steve Carr 03.25.04 at 2:34 pm

amused, all the quotes were from Leiter’s blog. Here’s the link to the post which has the 8th-grade quote and the “modestly rational” one: http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/archives/bleiter/000426.html.

Russell, you’re right, I haven’t paid much attention to the frontlines of the ID war. I believe you that other anti-IDers favor a hyper-aggressive style. My point was just that Leiter uses that style always, whether he’s fighting IDers or not.

58

Nat Whilk 03.25.04 at 2:56 pm

Russell L. Carter wrote:

To support ID is to either: (1) intentionally deceive, or (2) reveal a rather impressive level of stupidity.

One of my instructors in grad school is a mathematical biologist who has 65 publications indexed on MathSciNet and who holds a distinguished professorship at a school with a top 40 graduate program, but who attached his signature to the statement: “I am skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” Any insight as to whether he’s (1) a liar or (2) an idiot, or both?

59

Greg Hunter 03.25.04 at 3:21 pm

Bad Jim – My interpretation of the Bible is that the Devil is the Prodigal Son that God is trying to bring back in the fold. One of the fallacies of most fundamentalists is that they believe interpretations that were made along time ago and that these interpretations/commentaries have become fact. I would say that Jesus is God’s only “begotten” son, which leaves room for many others, including the Devil. The Devil (or God’s first Son) enters the bible as the Old Serpent and seduces Eve into eating the Apple (Ha!, Wrong). She actually had sex with the Devil and Eve’s First Born Son is Cain. This evil seed can be traced to the Fathers of Tony Blair, George Bush, John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

Let me tell you I am a laugh a minute at Church.

Walk in Love,

Greg Hunter
Offspring of Cain and Seth

60

Kieran Healy 03.25.04 at 3:45 pm

The explanatory power of ID is vastly expanded when the notion that “the devil is in the details” is taken seriously.

If you do that, what’s vastly expanded is ID’s lack of observable implications, not its ‘explanatory power’. Any time I come across a piece of countervailing evidence for ID, I ascribe it to the ‘devil in the details’ — damn you, Mr Devil, destroyin my nice design! Being irrefutable in principle is not the same as having great explanatory power.

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amused 03.25.04 at 4:16 pm

Mr. Carr, thanks. Here’s what Leiter wrote:

“[Thomas Friedman] remarks in passing: “Many Europeans really do believe that a dominant America is more threatening to global stability than Saddam’s tyranny.”

They not only believe it, they’re actually justified in believing it; indeed, the only thing to marvel at here is that anyone with an 8th-grade education doesn’t believe it. After all, the Europeans, not being as thoroughly cowed and indoctrinated, may have noticed that the US outspent Iraq on warfare preparations by a ratio of 400 to 1; indeed, that the US outspends the next ten biggest spenders on warfare preparations; that the US has nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons, while Iraq does not; that the US has invaded or overthrown governments in more than a dozen countries, unleashing ruthless reins of terror unparalleled outside Stalin’s Russia in the 1930s, while Iraq, as a third-rate power, had merely invaded one country, and had unleashed terror only against its own population (with essential help and support from the US); that the US war machine is now run by religious zealots, while Iraq was a secular state, and so on.”

Isn’t that correct?

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Steve Carr 03.25.04 at 4:48 pm

Amused, is what part of that passage correct? The facts about how much the US spends on the military and the nature of its arsenal are correct. The rest of it is either false or up for debate. The US “war machine” is not run by “religious zealots.” The US has not unleashed “reins [sic] of terror” remotely similar to those unleashed by Mao, Pol Pot, the Hutus, the myriad forces in the Congo, etc. I especially like the passage about Saddam having invaded merely one country. First of all, this is wrong — Iraq invaded Iran and Kuwait. More important, the only reason Saddam didn’t invade more than Kuwait was because the U.S. stopped him. Somehow I doubt if Saddam had taken over Saudi Arabia Leiter would be calling him a third-rate power.

In any case, these are questions about which reasonable people can and do disagree. But the idea that any intelligent person will necessarily accept this facile Chomskyian view of the world is both empirically false and theoretically absurd. Leiter thinks that you either agree with him or you’re a moron. I think that’s a bad way to write and a worse way to live.

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John Landon 03.26.04 at 2:03 am

I am always a little puzzled by the Darwin debate. How did it happen that the entire Science Establishment got entangled by Fundamentalists? They must be doing something wrong!
I think I fault Johann Von Neuman. He used to whisper there was a problem here with Darwin’s theory. It was reprehensible to whisper. Intelligent Design? So what? What else is new? The world is getting a little tired of the Dawkins gang + groupies jumping out of their skin at the mere mention of this. The theism/atheism stranglehood is long since out of hand. The world needs to move on to something more intelligent on the subject of evolution. Neither side in the religion/science dialectic obsessing over divinity can focus on the real issues.
As long as you think natural selection constitutes a theory the ID junk will spook you, Halloween 365 days in a row. Poor fellows, these Darwinists. If Darwinists would simply drop their theory, and declare they don’t know, ID would be out of ammo in a week.

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mc 03.26.04 at 8:34 am

If Darwinists would simply drop their theory, and declare they don’t know, ID would be out of ammo in a week.

Really? I thought that’d be exactly what the ID people want, actually.

Why should a theory that actually does work be abandoned just becuase some charlatans think it offends their beliefs? The view that Darwinism is flawed to the core or entirely useless is exactly the view of creationists. They think in terms of dogmas and project that onto everything.

So what if the theory of evolution is not perfect? Which theory is perfect? Does it have to be perfect to… what, stand up to religion?

You’re right, the theism/atheism and religion/science dialectic is a mental trap. But arguing that scientific theories should be cast off only because of thick reactionaries who insist on setting up that trap is surely not the way to get out of it, is it.

They’re best ignored. Trouble is, how can you ignore something that is getting a wider audience even in previously respected academic institutions? It’s not spooky. It’s just inacceptable.

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dave heasman 03.26.04 at 10:30 am

Nat Whilk claims ” One of my instructors in grad school is a mathematical biologist who has 65 publications indexed on MathSciNet and who holds a distinguished professorship at a school with a top 40 graduate program, but who attached his signature to the statement: “I am skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.” Any insight as to whether he’s (1) a liar or (2) an idiot, or both?”

This is something covered either by Leiter himself or Carl Zimmer – when these guys were called & asked if signing that statement meant that they favoured “Intelligent Design” they recoiled in horror. I recommend Nat Whilk asks his instructor directly.

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Abiola Lapite 03.26.04 at 11:16 am

” Any insight as to whether he’s (1) a liar or (2) an idiot, or both?”

You ignore another possibility: (3) senile. Nobody with expertise in Mathematical Biology could possibly subscribe to such a nonsensical position.

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Nat Whilk 03.26.04 at 4:29 pm

Dave Heasman wrote:

“when these guys were called & asked if signing that statement meant that they favoured “Intelligent Design” they recoiled in horror. I recommend Nat Whilk asks his instructor directly.”

He has a link on his webpage to the webpage of Dembski’s International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design. Do many recoilers from ID have such links?

Abiola Lapite wrote:

“You ignore another possibility: (3) senile.”

He’s fiftysomething and a number of his 65 publications are recent.

“Nobody with expertise in Mathematical Biology could possibly subscribe to such a nonsensical position.”

And yet he exists.

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Joseph 03.28.04 at 3:02 am

Advocates of Creationism and Intelligent Design claim that they do not have a religious agenda. It seems perversely ironic that they would be so transparently dishonest, ostensibly to advance their cause of intellectual honesty.

BTW, Talk.Origins is also a good source on the subject, in addition to Panda’s Thumb.
http://www.talkorigins.org/

http://corpus-callosum.blogspot.com/2004_03_01_corpus-callosum_archive.html#108026101387157163

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Nat Whilk 03.30.04 at 2:34 pm

I wrote:

“And yet he exists.”

It appears that he not only exists but that he is PI on a recently-awarded NSF-IGERT grant for 3 million USD in the areas of “biofluids, ecology and evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and physiology”.

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