Apr 24 2008

Academic Freedom Laws Similar to Health Care Freedom Laws

The Florida State Senate yesterday passed the Evolution Academic Freedom Act. The bill now goes to the House for a vote. The bill is partly a reaction to the inclusion of evolution in the Florida state science standards. Proponents claim that:

“This bill is a freedom of speech bill,” said Senate sponsor Ronda Storms, R-Valrico.


“It’s not about religion,” said Alan Hays, the House sponsor of the bill. “It’s about science.”

Wrong and wrong. I wonder if anyone really believes such nonsense even for a moment. Here are some excerpts from the bill:

The Legislature finds that current law does not expressly protect the right of teachers to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.

Every public school teacher in the state’s K-12 school system shall have the affirmative right and freedom to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological evolution.

Public school students in the state’s K-12 school system shall be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials through normal testing procedures. However, students shall not be penalized for subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.

The purpose of the bill is crystal clear – to give teachers who reject evolution and prefer some form of ID/creationism to spread anti-evolution propaganda to their students as if it were legitimate science. This is simply the next phase in the creationist attack against the teaching of evolution. But let’s look at the key components of this bill.

First, it states that current law does not expressly protect teachers who simply want to present objective scientific information. I am no expert in Florida state law – but I question the necessity of such “express” protection. I would be surprised if there were any laws prohibiting teachers from presenting objective, valid, and relevant scientific information in their science classes. I would further be surprised if such freedoms were not already adequately protected in practice, if not expressly. I therefore do not think such a law has any legitimate purpose.

So what, then, is the purpose of the law? Well, typically there is a balance between the academic rights and freedoms of teachers and the responsibilities of educational institutions (and with regard to public schools, the legislators who control them) to maintain quality control. Also, the higher up you go in the educational system the more this balance favors individual teachers. But there must always be some balance. A teacher should not be allowed to teach their personal brand of abject pseudoscience as if it were science, and completely neglect the curriculum. Academic freedom is therefore always constrained by quality control.

The criticism of evolution that this law intends to allow in public school science classrooms are pseudoscientific nonsense – not legitimate science. The mechanisms of quality control in education, functioning appropriately, should keep them out of science classrooms. This is not a violation of academic freedom, but an expression of a standard of quality in public education.

The core “unstated major premise” of this law is that science teachers are being restricted from discussing legitimate science critical of evolution in their classrooms. No one, however, has been able to make this case. Appropriate and legitimate criticism of the various components of evolutionary theory and lines of evidence for evolution can be freely discussed in science classrooms – as they should. Students should learn the messy process of science to better appreciate how science works and how we know what we know. Science is self-critical.

But evolution deniers want to admit false criticisms of evolution, arguments that have already been soundly refuted, and gross misinformation as if it were authoritative. This is an abuse of academic freedom for the express purpose of promoting a personal religious view (or at least one aspect of it) in the guise of science and is rightly curtailed by the appropriate mechanisms of quality control in eduction. This Florida bill, and others like it in other states, is about subverting this balance between academic freedom and quality control on one specific issue that has religious implications. They’re not fooling anyone.

The other components of the bill, the third paragraph quoted above, is more tricky. This basically says that students will be judged on their knowledge of the material as demonstrated through normal testing procedures. The purpose of this is also clear – students cannot be given a lower grade because they do not accept the scientific consensus on evolution. All depends, however, on how this law is enforced.

There are two schools of thought on such issue among defenders of science education and critics of pseudoscience. Larry Moran, who writes an excellent blog called Sandwalk, has this to say:

This is one of the reasons why I would flunk them if they took biology and still rejected the core scientific principles. It’s not good enough to just be able to mouth the “acceptable” version of the truth that the Professor wants. You actually have to open your mind to the possibility that science is correct and get an education. That’s what university is all about.

This can be interpreted as requiring that students not only learn the science but actually believe it. I find myself in the other camp – I think that students should demonstrate that they understand the science, but we simply cannot be in the business of enforcing (even through grades) what students believe. Belief is personal, science is public.

From a practical point of view what this means is that science teachers can demand not only that students learn the facts but that they demonstrate that they understand the arguments of science – the process and logic by which science arrives at its conclusions. Teachers should also be free to use various methods to determine student understanding – written tests, essays, and oral presentations. But belief does not have to enter the equation.

If the Florida law does nothing but enforce what I just described, then I find no fault with that provision. However, it is likely to be abused just as with the provision about teachers – namely to protect students who present pseudoscientific arguments against evolution as part of class activity that can reasonably be used to determine their grade.  The worst case scenario is that students who demonstrate that they have memorized facts about evolution, but cannot demonstrate that they understand the science, or who demonstrate that they are profoundly confused by pseudoscience, cannot be graded appropriately under the guise of protecting their freedom.

Health Care Freedom Laws

There is a parallel in this new legal strategy to the so-called “health care freedom” laws passed in over a dozen states, including Florida. The laws purport to protect the freedom of patients to access whatever healthcare they desire. What they really do, however, is protect the freedom of quacks and charlatans to commit fraud and practice incompetent medicine without being held to an appropriate standard of care.

The political framing of this issue is identical to that of the academic freedom movement as the latest attempt to attack evolution. Efforts to maintain a standard of care are being attacked as repression, and institutions that are designed to protect and maintain the standard of care are being undermined under the flag of “freedom.” This is the same strategy as attacking those who are trying to maintain an academic standard as engaging in repression and then trying to pass laws that undermine the ability of educational institutions to maintain academic standards under the guise of “freedom.”

Unfortunately, this tactic often works. It is much easier to sell to the public the notion of freedom than the necessity and complexity of maintaining necessary standards – whether in academia or health care.

53 responses so far

53 thoughts on “Academic Freedom Laws Similar to Health Care Freedom Laws”

  1. Orac says:

    Excellent point about the parallel. Indeed, consider, for instance, Virginia’s “Abraham’s Law” as a prime example of this sort of thing. In essence, Abraham’s law removes state protection from teenagers aged 14-17 if their parents decide to pursue quackery instead of science-based medicine for a life-threatening disease.

  2. Blair T says:

    My recollection of high school biology class was it was mostly rote learning with lots of memorization. The idea that students are discussing or debating competing theories at that level seems a bit unlikely, since they have no fundamental knowledge to ground such a debate.

    I am naturally curious sort and like to ask questions. I found my biology teachers the least welcoming of questions of all the subjects I took. Those classes effectively squelched my interest in biology.

    I also cannot remember evolution being covered – not that the subject was suppressed (I am Canadian, and I never heard of creationism growing up) – just that it was taken for granted.

    In fact, until I read Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” last year (an excellent book), I really had a feeble understanding of evolution.

    Though I find the Florida legislation abhorrent, I wonder if it will actually have any practical significance to biology teaching in high school.

  3. If passed it would have nothing *but* significance, which is why ID-ists have it up for consideration. Don’t think the ID-ists don’t have students of fundy families ready and waiting to challenge evolution in Florida schools should this pass, plus lawyers waiting to pounce on any perceived disobeyance by public school staff. Passage also sets a precedence for similar bills in other states undoubtedly waiting to be introduced.

    It surprises me a little it comes up in Florida, as opposed to Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, etc. There are many old south Christian fundy ID types in Florida, but also a lot of northern transplants, plus a huge Hispanic population, most of whom are Catholic rather than fundy.

  4. mike D says:

    I agree with Blaire-K-12 students are not even at the level to debate the “competing” theories. Even the most diligent high school students are still learning the 101’s of science nor do they have a solid logical repertoire from which to base arguments. Dr. Novella, can you recommend a “Logic and Reasoning” class to the high school schoolboards?? I would’ve loved a critical thinking class earlier on.

    Going to a private, Catholic prep school, my experience in biology classes was similarly discouraging as your’s Blair. I remember the one day evolution was presented… err, rather, mentioned. I see now that glossing over evolution was most likely intentional.

  5. azinyk says:

    In my high school (in rural Alberta, the Texas of Canada), evolution was “taught” the same way as sex ed: plan to teach it at the end of the year, and then Whoops – we ran out of time! Who could have forseen that?

  6. mike D says:

    azinyk: Funny you mention Texas… it is exactly to where I went to high school. I thought it was just my school!

  7. pec says:

    No one knows what caused the origin and evolution of life. The atheists don’t know and the creationists don’t know, and the intelligent design theorists don’t know.

    All scientists agree that life evolves, and no science teacher would, or should, try to make a case for biblical creationism. The Genesis story is obviously the creation myth of a particular culture, and has nothing to do with modern science.

    What is important right now, I think, is that teachers be allowed to tell their students that evolution has not been explained. Dawkins and his Brites are wrong — there is no scientific evidence that random mutations plus natural selection can account for the origin of species. And it most definitely cannot account for the origin of life.

    Saying that evolution has not been explained is NOT the same as saying a particular god created each species out of nothing. Admitting we do not know something that we absolutely do not know is not pseudoscience. It is pseudoscience to insist a theory is true when you have no evidence for it, simply because it supports atheism and you are an atheist.

    The evidence is for evolution, for genetic variation, and for natural selection. But there is no evidence that variation plus natural selection can explain evolution in general.

    Teachers should be free to point this out without being ridiculed and called pseudoscientists. They should not be fired for questioning a theory that has been widely accepted without evidence. Students should not be forced to agree that evolution has been scientifically explained. Students should not be indoctrinated into atheism, when atheism has NOT been scientifically demonstrated.

    Yes, I realize Novella thinks it has been, and he would like everyone’s children to agree with him so that in 20 or so years the world will be completely religion-free. Dawkins and Novella would be so relieved if the churches all closed down from lack of attendance.

    But unless or until you can prove atheism scientifically, you have no right preaching it in public schools.

  8. ellazimm says:

    Pec: have you ever looked at the information at talkorigins.org? I rather doubt it. Is it too much to ask you to look at the evidence before you dismiss it?

    Perhaps it would be a good thing for this law to pass. If some teacher presented ID as science there might be another court case which would establish that it really isn’t. A colossal waste of time I agree but sometimes people need to be hit over the head more than once.

  9. Gated Clock says:

    Good day Pec:

    You state that

    But there is no evidence that variation plus natural selection can explain evolution in general.

    a quick google search provides sites like this one:

    It seems to me that the claims made about the
    causes of evolution are testable and have been

    Best Regards – GC

  10. pec continues to make stuff up to support his assumptions and world view.

    First – I am not an atheist, I am an agnostic. The whole point of calling myself an agnostic is to emphasize the fact that the question of god is unknowable – no one knows. It is beyond human knowledge.

    Second – I specifically stated that public education should have nothing to do with what students believe. pec has turned that into indoctrinating atheism – again proving that he cannot read and understand what he is reading.

    As others have pointed out – there is copious evidence that variation plus natural selection can explain evolution. That is currently the only viable theory, and it has so far withstood the test of evidence. This is certainly not the whole story – there is genetic drift which involves changes in gene frequencies without selection. There are also epigenetic factors, but there exact role is still unclear.

    And pec missed one central point – discussing and acknowledging legitimate criticism of evolution and exploring what we do not know is already allowed in science and in the classroom. It is only the delusions and deliberate lies of ID/creationists that there is repression that silences legitimate criticism. It is not pseudoscientific to criticize evolution or any theory – but the specific criticisms of ID/creationists ARE pseudoscientific.

  11. ADR150 says:

    i love it when steve lays the smack down on idiots like pec

  12. pec says:

    Steven Novella,

    Ok, I was wrong to assume you are an atheist and I am entirely sympathetic to agnosticism. I am a sort of agnostic myself.

    And I appreciate your opinion that students in public school should be free to believe however they want.

    “there is copious evidence that variation plus natural selection can explain evolution. That is currently the only viable theory, and it has so far withstood the test of evidence.”

    That however is not true. Not even when you add genetic drift and epigenetic factors. There is copious evidence that variation plus natural selection can cause species to change and improve their fitness for an environment. But you have no evidence that evolution in general can be explained this way. Selection only results in variations within species, never in the creation of a new species.

    Of course that depends on exactly how you define “species.” The ID claim is that the extremely large increases in complexity that have occurred cannot be undirected. Of course then we have to define “complexity.”

    The point is that a real agnostic should be agnostic about evolution. It is not explained and everyone is confused about it. I do not believe a dead mindless universe can create the complex machinery we call life. I am a skeptic regarding extreme materialism. I think the universe is alive in some way we do not comprehend. We are not, and may never be, capable of comprehending it. But complexity theory does suggest that evolution towards greater complexity is natural.

  13. pec wrote: “Selection only results in variations within species, never in the creation of a new species.

    Of course that depends on exactly how you define ‘species.’ ”

    You hit upon the answer to your own false statement. Species are not discrete entities. Breeds blend into sub-species, blend into species, blend into different but closely related species. There definitely is a line that cannot be crossed – when there is no way that two populations can exchange genes, but there is a VERY blurry line between populations and therefore it is not clear at all where to draw the line between one “species” and another.

    So the term “variation within species but not create new species” is scientifically vacuous – without meaning. All populations display in population variation and between population variation. There is no magic line between “species” that cannot be crossed – either theoretically or empirically.

    Here is just the latest example of significant variation over recorded history: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080421-lizard-evolution.html

  14. I think, looking back at pec’s statements, he is saying that there is common descent, and therefore one species must change into another over time, but that variation and natural selection is insufficient to explain that process (correct me if I am wrong).

    But pec is just not aware of the real history of these ideas and the copious evidence from population genetics and direct observation that variation and natural selection are capable of producing speciation.

    In fact, prior to Darwin there were evolutionists who believed there was some intrinsic force in nature that drove change over time. Lamark began his career believing this and sought to confirm it my documenting how species change over time. To his credit, by the end of his career he concluded that there is no evidence for any intrinsic trend or force over evolutionary time – just local adaptation.

    pec’s idea (and that of ID) has already been considered and rejected by biologists on evidentiary grounds – not some materialist conspiracy.

  15. pec says:


    You misunderstood me completely. I believe in common descent, and evolution, and natural selection. There is no need to convince me of any of that.

    I am skeptical that the genetic variations that are selected from are “random,” or without purpose. We already have evidence that the rate of mutation can increase under environmental stress. I think it will turn out that there are various kinds of purpose involved in the evolution process.

    Older theories of evolution assumed some kind of purpose and direction, but the Darwinian and current standard theories deny that there is any kind of direction in the genetic variations. Well we already have some evidence to contradict that. There are reasons to think that Lamarckianism was discarded without clear scientific evidence against it.

    I believe that what we call the universe is made out of information, not matter. Therefore it is capable of something we might call intelligence, or purpose.

  16. pec says:

    “pec is just not aware of the real history of these ideas and the copious evidence from population genetics and direct observation that variation and natural selection are capable of producing speciation.”

    I am aware of the real history of these ideas, and I know that you have no evidence that variation and natural selection can result in the creation of new complex machinery. That is the ID thesis. The debate is mostly philosophical and hinges on definitions of “complexity.”

    Improvements in computer technology may eventually settle the question. Right now I don’t think a scientific conclusion can be made.

  17. daedalus2u says:

    pec, if there is common descent, then multiple species extant today are descended from the same common ancestor.

    We can see that multiple times genes have been duplicated and then diverged such that the proteins the genes code for do very different things. That is a mechanism for “increased complexity” (which I agree is a poor term to use). To me, a single protein that does 10 things simultaneously is more “complex” than 10 proteins that do those same 10 things separately.

    When an organism is under stress and becomes resource limited it makes perfect sense that the mechanisms it has for DNA replication will induce more errors. The alternate hypothesis that the DNA replication error rate would go down is non-physical. It doesn’t take a “purpose” for stress to cause increased DNA error rates.

    There are no known mechanisms consistent with any kind of directed evolution. The genetic composition of germ cells is not modified by acquired characteristics of the organisms carrying them.

  18. weing says:

    Improvements in computer technology will never settle questions of complexity. Only experiments. Lamarckism and Lysenkoism were discarded because people depending on them for food starved to death. Just look at the Soviet experiments under Lysenko.

  19. Roy Niles says:

    pec said: “I believe that what we call the universe is made out of information, not matter. Therefore it is capable of something we might call intelligence, or purpose.”

    Are information and matter mutually exclusive?

    Do we not already “know” that the universe has the “capability” of producing life? Do living things not have their own purposes, whether they coincide with any imaginary universal purposes or not?

    So what new point have you demonstrated here that is other than a somewhat muddled statement of the obvious?

  20. pec says:

    “Are information and matter mutually exclusive?”

    No, matter is made out of information. What else? It certainly is not made out of matter — that would be circular.

  21. pec says:

    “Do we not already “know” that the universe has the “capability” of producing life?”

    Yes, and what sort of universe would you expect to have this capability? A universe made out of “matter,” whatever that is, or a universe made out of “information,” whatever that is?

    And a universe made out of information is intelligent, because you cannot have information without intelligence.

    But all these words are vague and philosophical and easy to twist. If you don’t already see it my way, you won’t. I believe a living universe creates life, and a dead universe would not create anything. This is not a question we can answer with science, at least not now.

    What is important is that science educators stop indoctrinating students and making them think it’s stupid to believe in universal intelligence. It is not stupid at all. We have no scientific reasons to believe the universe is made of dead matter. That’s a popular philosophy, nothing more.

  22. Roy Niles says:

    Pec, you originally said “the universe was made out of information, NOT matter.” Now you say matter is made out of information, as if you had already made that clear.
    Which begs the question of which came first, matter or information, and how could that be determined except to posit that they are mutually inclusive.
    So again all this is rather pointless, except as a lead-in to saying:
    “And a universe made out of information is intelligent, because you cannot have information without intelligence.”
    Talk about circular! We already agree that the universe has intelligent life. You take that and spin it into proof that intelligence existed before life and therefor made life (extrapolating a bit from previous comments of yours).

    Unfortunately for your argument, that is so much crap. You can’t have information unless there’s some sort of being that finds that “quality” useful to its purpose. In fact information is not a quality at all until defined by its usefulness. And in fact without life forms, the concept of information is arguably meaningless.

    So of course you can “believe” whatever you want, supportable by science or not, logic or not. But that belief does not automatically become factual and a basis for pooh poohing opinions supported by credible evidence.
    Your belief process is at best describable as goofy (foolish; harmlessly eccentric).

  23. pec says:

    Roy Niles,

    I already said we have no clear definition for words like “matter” or “information,” and I already said I can’t prove my belief is true. To me it’s obvious that matter is made out of information — immaterial relationships — and that information, or intelligence, is what the whole universe is made of. I can’t see how it could be otherwise, but I don’t think long philosophical debates would convince anyone. What I’m saying is not “crap,” but follows logically from the ideas I am familiar with. Since I am familiar with holistic philosophy, and you probably are not, you are not going to see it my way.

  24. Roy Niles says:

    We do have clear definitions for these words. That’s the problem. Your arguments boil down to saying, you are wrong because if I choose to define your words my way, I become right. That’s the fallacy from crap argument.

    Yes I know about holistic philosophy. It’s a pseudophilosophy – no logic required, no science required, no intelligence required.

    But it puzzles me why you even bring these things up if you have such low expectations for their acceptance.

  25. pec says:

    “Your arguments boil down to saying, you are wrong because if I choose to define your words my way, I become right.”

    I was not talking about right or wrong. I said we do not have scientific evidence to decide between the current standard Darwinist theory and some form of ID theory.

    If you think you can label all forms of holistic philosophy as pseudophilosophy then you don’t know anything about it. Information theory, for example, is holistic, according to the way “holistic” is often defined.

    “why you even bring these things up if you have such low expectations for their acceptance.”

    No, I just don’t like getting into endless debates where the terminology is poorly defined. If we are talking about science, there is no point going off into philosophical speculation.

    My point is that no particular theory of evolution has won the contest yet, none are backed by strong scientific evidence, so it makes no sense to promote only one theory.

  26. weing says:

    The theory of evolution is not something to be believed. It is something to be supported or amended based on evidence and experimentation. It does not require a God to support it as that would make it unscientific. It has nothing to say at all about God. ID, on the other hand, does call for a designer/God. That’s what makes it unscientific/untestable. It is, therefore, not a scientific theory and cannot compete with evolution at all. Evolution may have competing scientific theories, but ID and fairy tales are not them.

  27. Roy Niles says:

    pec said: “Holistic philosophy has a long history, involving various disciplines. Chaos theory is one current example.”

    But we had this exchange earlier on another thread:
    # pec on 23 Apr 2008 at 3:56 pm
    Roy Niles,
    I think that our universe has a natural tendency to self-organize in creative ways. The outcomes are never predictable; all we can predict is that some kind of evolution will occur.
    All that ID theorists are really asking is that we move on from old-fashioned and simplistic reductionism, towards something like chaos theory.
    # Roy Niles on 23 Apr 2008 at 4:10 pm
    Would that be deterministic chaos by any chance? Because again, no designers need apply.

    pec has yet to reply.

  28. pec says:

    The universe is not deterministic. You cannot predict the future even if you know everything about the past and present.

  29. pec says:

    “It does not require a God to support it as that would make it unscientific. ”


    Imagine, for the sake of argument, that there is some kind of “god” or universal intelligence. Are you saying that, even if it were somehow known to be true, science would be forced to deny it?

    Not very long ago most scientists believed in some kind of “god” concept. And they thought the existence of the natural world was evidence for god. No one was accused of being unscientific merely because they had supernatural beliefs. And it was not considered off limits for scientists to study the “supernatural.”

  30. weing says:

    If it was known to be true that God or a universal intelligence existed, science would not be forced to deny it or accept it. God, or a universal intelligence, is out of the purview of science. Science has no knowledge of whether God exists or not. Maybe it’s my Catholic upbringing, but I was always taught not to put God to the test. Believing in God cannot be scientific. It is religion. There is nothing wrong with it unless you want to call it science.

  31. Roy Niles says:

    pec, if as you say, the universe is not deterministic, it arguably cannot contain a supreme being of the type posited by ID with what are essentially the predictive (not to mention omnipotent and omniscient) powers that allow it to accurately determine and design in advance the form and direction of any life that it zaps into being.

    And contrary to your supposition, the ID people clearly don’t want us to move toward something like chaos theory, because they don’t believe in anything like that themselves. They have a belief in which the universe is neither deterministic or non-deterministic, as only one with what would appear to be an impossible intertwining of those two alternatives would seem to suit their purposes. (Or maybe that’s what you meant by chaos theory?)

  32. pec says:

    “a supreme being of the type posited by ID with what are essentially the predictive (not to mention omnipotent and omniscient) powers that allow it to accurately determine and design in advance the form and direction of any life that it zaps into being.”

    That is not, at all, what ID is about. It makes absolutely no claims about god. It does NOT say anything about a “being” and it does NOT claim that life or species are “zapped” into being.

    It’s obvious that you got all your information about ID from anti-ID activists.

  33. pec says:

    “I was always taught not to put God to the test.”

    People define “god” differently. I think the universe is infinite intelligence, or something like that, which of course we can’t begin to imagine.

    If, let’s imagine, the universe is made of intelligence, or information, then science can’t help “testing,” or investigating “god.” There are some physicists, for example, who believe matter is made out of information (and I don’t see how matter could be made out of matter anyway). So physicists are studying, possibly and in my opinion, the “mind” of nature. So if someone defines the mind of nature as “god,” well then physicists would be studying and “testing” god.

    And let’s say it turns out there are fields and forces that organize matter on the biological level. If science were not allowed to study these forces, because they exist on a super-material level, then it would never be allowed to understand life.

    Science is NOT necessarily confined to studying matter, as we currently define it. Physics has already gone way beyond that. Actually, we don’t define “matter” and we have no idea what it really is.

    So we can’t confine science to the world of matter and religion to the world of spirit. We can’t really build a wall between the two — the idea that we can is out of date.

    The Catholic Church may feel threatened by science and maybe that’s why it says to keep science and religion separate. But people who believe life originated and evolved by mechanical unguided processes very often become atheists or agnostics. Following the Catholic Church’s advice would meaning turning off your intellect.

  34. Lawyerbill says:

    Someone should remind the Florida House that state laws do not trump the US Constitution. Any state law that would allow the teaching of a creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional.

    If this law is passed, the ACLU will be all over the first teacher who tries to pass off ID as science. The result will be identical to Dover.

    I know that many people are annoyed that these issues keep having to be litigated. However, the courts are there to protect us from the politicians.

  35. weing says:

    The only physics I know says, if I understand it correctly, that matter and energy are interconvertible. I am sorry to inform you, but confounding religion with science went out of date ages ago.
    That allows religious and non-religious alike to study science. I never thought scientists had the hubris to claim to know the mind of god.

  36. pec says:

    “never thought scientists had the hubris to claim to know the mind of god.”

    No, but many claim that they are studying the mind of god. There is a difference between “knowing” and trying to learn.

  37. Roy Niles says:

    pec, straight from the ID site, http://www.intelligentdesign.org/

    “The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

    Directed by an intelligent cause in short. Would that cause NOT need essentially the predictive (not to mention omnipotent and omniscient) powers that allow it to accurately determine and design in advance the form and direction of any life?

    And separately, would that cause NOT need to operate in a universe that was neither deterministic or non-deterministic? You didn’t answer that part at all.

    And why do the ID people rail against atheists if their position in no way involves theism?

    I would expect that if you had any good answers to these questions, your position would at least become somewhat clear, both to others and to yourself. Instead it just seems to revert to more and more fuzziness.

  38. weing says:


    Knowing or trying to learn the mind of god still takes a lot of hubris.
    The only scientists I am aware trying to learn about the mind, neurologists, psychologists, etc., are trying to learn about the mind of man. Once they learn about that, maybe they can work on the mind of Ganesha or Vishnu or whatever.

  39. pec says:

    “Directed by an intelligent cause in short. Would that cause NOT need essentially the predictive (not to mention omnipotent and omniscient) powers that allow it to accurately determine and design in advance the form and direction of any life?”

    Not at all. You are assuming that an intelligent agent must be like a big all-knowing, all-powerful boss in the sky — the child’s image of god.

    If the universe is made of intelligence, it may be a law of nature that complex machinery will tend to evolve. No god-person has to sit at a drawing board and plan out every detail in advance. That isn’t even the way human designers work! In software development, for example, our designs are rooted in what others did before, and gradually evolve towards something different.

    I think god, or universal intelligence, is beyond and outside of time, while we, and evolution, happen inside of time. So sure, maybe god can see ahead and maybe the evolution of complexity is somehow pulled from the future.

    But that is speculating way beyond what we know. We are trapped in time, and we can’t know what happens on higher levels.

  40. Roy Niles says:

    The designer of the evolutionary process, as posited by ID, WOULD have to be like a child’s image of God. Design implies purpose, or the ID people wouldn’t insist on the use of the term. Where is this purposeful intelligence that you posit other than in life itself? And human designers do have a purpose, but their designs are mechanistic, and even with computers, both their creative and predictive powers remain severely limited.

    “it may be a law of nature that complex machinery will tend to evolve. No god-person has to sit at a drawing board and plan out every detail in advance.”

    That’s actually a pretty good maybe. ID people wouldn’t like that at all, nor any of the other maybes that followed.

    The rest of what you said is a bit silly – a roundabout way through the mystical to end up with an I don’t know conclusion.

    Outside of time and inside of time? God saw into the future and pulled something back that that hadn’t been available to him in the present? These are nothing but an orchestrated stringing of words together so that, if the sound is good, it has to represent a deeper meaning.

    Not that you shouldn’t do something that makes you feel good. But some of it should be done in private. And not as a basis to question materialism, in any case.

  41. b_calder says:

    I’m not going to count the posts back and forth with pec, but it really dragged the discussion off topic.

    May I illustrate the state of science education is Florida by comparing the number of FIRST robotics teams in the upper half of the state with those in the lower half? I know it has nothing to do with science scores, but it is a concrete example of how many people think it is important to expose students to a good science education since technology is the handmaiden to science.

    Drawing an admittedly arbitrary line across just North of Orlando, there is one team in Mount Dora, one in Jacksonville, and one in the Panhandle somewhere. There are over 40 teams in Florida. Most of the fundamentalists are in the North half of the state. Southern Baptist and various Evangelical sects lie heavy on the ground up there. In the South half of the state, there are plenty of nuts but they are vastly outnumbered.

    Public schools in my area are not really in danger but universities will have to teach the law to college students on the way to teaching jobs. Although students in universities do not have to understand their subjects well, they are required to have a knowledge of applicable laws that bear on education.

    Unfortunately many of k-12 science teachers in the U S do not have science degrees. The ones educated in Florida will be told that the law states evolution is a highly debatable theory and they should present all sides so students can make their *own* decisions.

  42. Roy Niles says:

    It may be a bit of a bore, but hardly off topic to discuss where a discordant point of view on the subject may be coming from.

  43. pec says:

    “Outside of time and inside of time? ”

    There is nothing unscientific about the idea of higher level dimensions. Science fiction writers love the idea of time travel, but that doesn’t mean it’s pure fantasy. Many physicists suspect there are more than 4 dimensions, and in higher levels time might not be restricted the way it is on our level.

    This is speculation, although not far-fetched, but I certainly am not going to base my arguments on speculation about time and higher-order dimensions. Just surprised you never thought about it.

  44. daedalus2u says:

    pec, you are correct, there is a “law of nature” that self-replicating things responsible for their own survival and reproduction will evolve so as to optimize that survival and reproduction. That “law of nature” is called Evolution by the rest of us.

    Calling that process “Intelligent Design” is to anthropomorphically project human characteristics onto non-human processes.

    Every new hypothesis starts out as speculation. If a hypothesis is tested and found to be incorrect it is discarded because it doesn’t correspond to reality. If a hypothesis cannot be tested, then it can only remain speculation, a type of speculation known as idle speculation, speculation that cannot lead to anything useful or productive. You may decide that you want to base your life philosophy according to idle speculation. Many people do, and they have many names for the philosophies built on top of idle speculation. None of those philosophies built on idle speculation can be properly called scientific.

    A while back you were saying that computers can never be intelligent, now you are saying that everything in the universe is already intelligent. Those two ideas are not compatible. One or both of them must be wrong.

  45. Roy Niles says:

    pec, don’t pretend surprise that someone hasn’t thought about things the way you have. It’s more likely they haven’t STOPPED thinking about them the way you have.
    Time is not a palpable entity that a thing can be either inside or outside of. Wherever you might want to imagine, it is by our definition both a a quality and the expression of that quality as a measurable dimension. An intelligence as a palpable entity in some other palpable entity you call time serving as an explanation of events in our present, past or future is as silly as it gets.

    Sputter on – I’m out of here.

  46. pec says:

    Roy Niles,

    If you could escape our normal 4-dimensional world and get into, let’s say, a 5-dimensional world, time travel should be possible. There is nothing silly about that idea. On our level, it’s all past-to-future. In 5 dimensions you might not have that restriction.

    And I keep saying, over and over and over, that I am NOT basing my arguments on these speculations. So you have no real excuse for calling me silly.

  47. Roy Niles says:

    What do you get when you combine a Class II impossibility with a Class III impossibility? An excuse to call someone silly.

  48. pec says:

    “A while back you were saying that computers can never be intelligent, now you are saying that everything in the universe is already intelligent. Those two ideas are not compatible. One or both of them must be wrong.”


    Computers can be intelligent — why would we spend all this time with them otherwise? They just can’t have creative, human-like intelligence. Or even creative microbe-like intelligence.

    I program computers to do certain jobs that require intelligence — making logical decisions based on changing conditions, for example. But I have to predict every single thing that could ever happen to them, and explain in complete detail what they should do in every case.

    So there are different kinds of intelligence. I think we program our brains, which are kind of like computers, possibly, but instead of a keyboard we use repetition. When I drive to work, for example, my brain, which has been programmed by thousands of repetitions, pretty much takes over. My “mind” only gets involved at the points where things are different in some way.

    Anyway, of course I think computers can have some kind of “intelligence” and I’m sure I never said otherwise. But we will never have the kind of problems described in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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