The Chronicle: 1/19/2007: Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design? 4

J. Scott Turner comments on why academe ought to allow questions about “design” in nature. A few good quotes:

I wonder, for example, what demon had gripped a past president of Cornell University when he singled out intelligent design as a unique threat to academic and civil discourse. Aren’t universities supposed to be a place for dangerous ideas?

Also amusing is the spectacle of independent-minded scientists’ running to college administrators or the courts for help in defining what is science and what is permissible discourse in their classrooms. And I find it hard to suppress a chuckle at the sheer brass of books like Richard Dawkins’s recent The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which seem untroubled by traditional boundaries between religion and science as long as the intrusion is going their way.

That is a pity because at the core of intelligent design is a question worth pondering: Is evolution shaped in any way by purposefulness or intentionality? Darwinism is clear in its answer — no way, no how — and that is not mere obstinacy, as some might charge. The banishment of purpose from evolution is Darwinism’s sine qua non, which Darwin himself fought hard to establish, and which his descendants have defended stoutly ever since.
But what if evolution really is purposeful in some way? In fact Darwin dethroned only one type of purposefulness, the Platonic idealism that had previously underscored the concept of the species. There’s more to purpose than Plato, however, and it remains an open question how other forms of purposefulness might inform our thinking about evolution. What might purposeful evolution look like? Is design its signature? Can it be reconciled with Darwinism? If so, how? If not, why not?


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4 thoughts on “The Chronicle: 1/19/2007: Why Can’t We Discuss Intelligent Design?

  • Tom Terry

    For the same reason that we don’t discuss the “Stork” question in sexual reproduction content in classes….there is nothing to the theory or to test…another example-Santa Claus-not a subject for science classes. There are numerous creation theories going back as far as man’s history-only the theories that come from evidence and is testable is worth anyone’s time…

  • Tom Terry

    Did you actually read Scott Turner’s reply before you started advertising for your classes? That was the source of my initial reply and I’m unsure why you don’t get this… No one cares what you you do or how you do it…that can’t be emphasized enough. You seem to be chasing the wrong issue here. Let me start again.
    In your classes, do you talk about sports? Do you discuss space exploration? How about military tactics used in WW II? No? Why not? Could it be relevance to the topics that you have only a limited time to discuss that narrows your focus? How do you choose what’s relevant? Or do you somehow have so much time to cover what you know to be important to your class, that you can talk about anything? If so, my hat’s off to you…you are an educator without peer, a marvel. Your students are blessed to have someone who’s untrammelled time continuum in the classroom is unbelievable. And I mean, unbelievable. The issues and thoughts discussed in your teachings are, I’m guessing, given fair weight, in their relationship to the all of the discussions and classes being held in your institution.
    Stop using straw man arguments because you think we disagree. I am not going to divulge what my religious background is because it doesn’t matter. I never accused anyone of being anti-darwinian because they think design is a topic for discussion in science classes. I simply stated that, there is no useful purpose for that in science-I never mentioned your classes or any other type of class aside from science.
    By the way, Prof, thanks for the lecture notes at the end of your last reply-but I audited that class some time ago…I didn’t need that topic for credit.

  • cbrady

    Well, now you have me flummoxed Tom. Did I read Turner’s reply? Which reply? If you mean his article, that happened to arrive in my office before I started my class this week, but I have taught it many times. As for who cares what I do, presumably referring to what I teach in my class, my students care. Science and religion do intersect, whether we want them to or not and so where relevant I bring it into my class.
    So, to answer your questions about my classes: sports, yes (not relevant usually, but I do talk about), space, yes (same again), military tactics, absolutely yes, but usually not in reference to WW2, but in reference to Joshua and the 6 Days War. Of course I understand your point and it is well taken. Starting again, Taylor’s point is not to suggest that evolutionary biologists should say, “Look! Here is evidence of design therefore there must be an intelligent designer behind it, let me share with you my faith in {insert deity}.” As I said, I believe that is not appropriate. What is appropriate is to observe that a particular kind of finch has a particularly shaped beak and to ask why? (Evolution is Darwin’s answer. Great!) And then if one asks is there a purpose to that we can discuss evolutionary mechanisms, environmental concerns, and so on. That, I think, is not inappropriate for such a class.

    Now in your last paragraph I am not sure what your point is. I will try and reply briefly to each point.
    (1) I don’t think we disagree. You posted to my blog making a particular argument that I disagreed with (or at least suggested needed clarification). But we may well agree on lots of topics, I simply responded to what you chose to post.
    (2) I never asked you to divulge your religious background. I agree, it doesn’t matter. Did you feel that this was my goal? It is not.
    (3) I never suggested you accused anyone of being anti-Darwinian, did I? You do seem to suggest that Taylor is arguing for ID when he is not.
    (4) I now that you were not referring to my classes. I offered to describe my current class merely because I thought it would provide you with some insight into what I do, what my views are on ID, and how I do incorporate them into my class.
    (5) That is a precious reference to lecture notes. I can certainly provide them for you if you like. (For my intent, see (4) above.)

    This can be an interesting and fun discussion. Genesis, creation, evolution, science, and religion are all topics that I find fascinating and they intersect often. For those that might be interested in more on this I strongly recommend Christopher Heard’s blog Higgaion (see science and religion tags). He is very articulate, thoughtful, and challenges the relevance (and truthiness) of ID.

  • cbrady

    I just now noticed that Tom’s earlier comments are no longer visible (or on the server). I assume that Tom deleted them, those who comment may do that, since I did not. It could be that there was a problem in the system, but I think that unlikely. {See update below!}
    Tom, did you remove them? If you did, no explanation necessary, I just would like to know if something is wrong with the blog.

    All of that being said, I have removed my responses since without Tom’s comments they make little sense. If any are truly interested I have both Tom and my comments and I can repost them.

    UPDATE: It may be that the spam filter ran after Tom’s comments posted and then pulled them off (since I can see them over there now). I do not have time to put them back up, but I wanted to note that since it now appears likely that it was not Tom who removed them.