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AN IMPORTANT SUNDAY POST: Today, Ex Parte brings you an extended post -- an important post. Lawrence VanDyke, an editor at the Harvard Law Review, a dedicated member of the HLS Federalist Society and a friend of Ex Parte, was attacked recently by a U of Texas professor who took exception to a Note he wrote for the Review: Not Your Daddy's Fundamentalism: Intelligent Design in the Classroom (117 Harv. L. Rev. 964). Professor Leiter's attack is as wrongheaded as it is vigorous. Lawrence has penned an extensive response to Leiter, whose vitriol extends to outright condemnation of any academic future for Lawrence:
Mr. VanDyke may yet have a fine career as a lawyer, but I trust he has no intention of entering law teaching: 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, one that may have political and pedagogical consequences.
If Professor Leiter thought he can level such crude idiocy at Lawrence without response, he thought wrong. But I'll let Lawrence do the talking from this point on.
In a recent post to his blog, Professor Leiter graciously labels “incompetent” my recent Harvard Law Review Book Note reviewing Francis Beckwith’s new book on the constitutionality of presenting Intelligent Design (ID) in schools. He also accuses me of “scholarly fraud” and reassures “the many law professors who read [his] site” that my budding career is in serious jeopardy (they were certainly much relieved to hear that). While this could almost be considered praise from the characteristically insulting Leiter (see here for a scathing yet highly-entertaining reply to one of Leiter’s past crusades), I figured I should reply nonetheless. Harvard Law Review Notes are unsigned, and hence I have politely declined to comment or reply to past attacks on my Note (e.g., here). I’m also too busy studying and working for the Review to reply to personal attacks. Leiter’s post, if more caustic than the norm, is characteristic of attacks on ID in its liberal use of ad hominem and hyperbole, denial that more than 2 or 3 scientists at most disagree with evolution, and vague appeals to the “massing evidence” for evolution. What sets Leiter’s post apart is the blatant and egregious substantive errors that riddle his critique. Although I hesitated to reply, I simply couldn’t forego this opportunity to perhaps shake the blind faith of those few Leiterites out there who actually ascribe some kind of accuracy to Leiter’s bloviations regarding the ID/evolution debate.
The ultimate irony in this is that Leiter accuses me of scholarly fraud and misrepresenting facts, while as early as his third paragraph (after he spends the first two relieving himself of his pent-up angst towards anyone with the audacity to disagree with him) he intentionally misrepresents the Discovery Institute as “the . . . public relations arm of the creationist movement.” This in the face of two of the leading creationist organizations’ disclaimers of Intelligent Design as creationism - one of whom I quote in my Book Note (fn. 14) and one of whom Beckwith quotes in the book I reviewed. If Leiter actually read my Note, he would realize how ridiculous (and counter-factual) it is to attribute “public relations arm” status to an organization the creationist movement expressly disavows. With that inauspicious beginning, Leiter’s piece quickly degenerates into a mass of invective and mud-slinging. Apparently, Leiter can’t conceive of two separate movements where both actually include some religious members.
Leiter’s attack wasn’t motivated by any actual factual errors in my Note (I’m not denying that there may be errors in my Note - I am human after all - but after reading Leiter’s post, my confidence in his ability to spot them if they are there is seriously shaken), but in an effort to make sure all students recognize that if they step outside the bounds of Leiter’s orthodoxy, their careers will be in serious jeopardy. This is pretty amazing. My Note actually talks about the “hostility and censorship of the evolutionary establishment” and Mr. Leiter acts as if it is his goal to prove me correct (along with Chris Mooney, who has previously similarly mischaracterized my Note as well as Beckwith’s book). I guess I was hoping for more substantive engagement with the central premise of my Note - while I enjoy ad hominem and hyperbole as much as the next guy, it really doesn’t advance the debate. Let’s take a look at Leiter’s post to see who is guilty of “factual errors” and “misleading innuendos” in their writing:
A response to Leiter’s Post (my comments in bold, Leiter’s in italics - "Book Note" refers to my original Note):
Mr. VanDyke's book note reads like a press release from the Discovery [sic] Institute--the Seattle-based public relations arm of the creationist movement--and not like a scholarly review of a book. Consider just a few of the factual errors and misleading innuendoes from the opening paragraphs of the review:
As indicated in my fn. 14, ID (and hence the Discovery Institute) is not a “creationist movement.” The rest is classic genetic fallacy (apparently a specialty of Leiter’s - see below), except in this case, even worse. Leiter’s not even saying because it comes from VanDyke, it must be wrong. Rather, he’s saying because it sounds like somebody he doesn’t like (and it appears that this is a rather large category of folks), it must be wrong. Nice bit of transparent ad hominem here.
Book Note: "A perception common to laypeople, peripheral scientists, and scholars alike is that basic evolutionary theory is inherently an empirical scientific claim that does not purport to address metaphysical claims similar to those addressed by classical religions. In large part because of this perception, naturalistic evolution has long enjoyed a pedagogical monopoly in our nation's public schools."
Reality check: The common perception is, of course, correct, which is why the creationists must disparage it by innuendo. Fore more than 140 years, "the massing evidence from paleontology, genetics, zoology, molecular biology and other fields gradually established evolution's truth beyond reasonable doubt," as Scientific American notes. This is why evolution enjoys a pedagogical monopoloy in the schools, as it should.
Interestingly, here he does the same thing he later accuses me of doing - doesn't cite any actual empirical evidence to support his point, just appeals to authority (like I did). I, however, at least cited to Beckwith’s book 4 different times with regard to ID’s claims - my Note, after all, was a book review, and I’m not expected to re-cite to what the author has already cited. In any event, Beckwith’s book itself isn’t a scientific work, it is a legal work, though it does cite to other scientific works for support. Leiter doesn’t even do that. Also, if he had read my fn. 8, he would realize that saying science has ‘established evolution’s truth beyond … doubt’ is meaningless since ‘evolution’ is such a malleable term (see my comments on evolutionists’ “bait and switch” game below).
Book Note: "However, its dogmatic [sic] presentation has not escaped significant controversy from a diverse group of critics. Most recently, a small but tenacious group of sophisticated and well-credentialed scientists, philosophers, and legal scholars have argued that the common perception of evolution as free from inherent naturalistic philosophical implications is simply mistaken."
Reality check: Note, again, the misleading innuendo: there is no "significant controversy" among scientists about the truth of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. There are exactly two credentialed scientists (one not even employed as such), neither distinguished biologists on anyone's account, who have joined cause with the creationists; their arguments have never passed muster in peer-reviewed scientific publications, and the arguments they have published elsewhere have been demolished repeatedly by other scientists (this is nowhere mentioned in the Book Note). Evolutionary theory, of course, has naturalistic implications -- so do physics and chemistry as well: science has made tremendous progress by relying on naturalistic explanatory mechanisms. This lends support to a view of how the world works, but it is not an a priori metaphysics like those of religion or non-naturalistic worldviews. That is the crucial difference, which the creationists consistently elide.
First of all, Leiter’s conflating rhetoric catches up with him here. I don’t know for sure whether there are more than “two credentialed scientists” who “have joined cause with the creationists.” I assume there probably are. Since I wasn’t writing about creationists, I wouldn’t know.
With regard to the ID movement (I’ll grant arguendo that Leiter is just reductively lumping creationism and ID), all I can assume here is that Leiter is kidding. “[E]xactly two credentialed scientists?” Wow. I know personally two PhD bio-chems who don’t subscribe to the theory of evolution (and neither is involved with any ID or creationist organization). One is a PhD in physical bio-chem, the other a PhD in bio-chem with a masters in evolutionary biology who works in genetic research. Perhaps Leiter missed my fn. 3 citing to the “100 Scientists” [PhDs, most of them] who are skeptical of evolution’s claims. But, of course, those guys have affiliated themselves with the Discovery Institute so they don’t count, right? Yet my two PhD friends aren’t even on the list, as almost certainly aren’t many others - as Leiter kindly illustrates, there is a price to pay if you don’t toe the dogmatic line. I’m pretty good at math - I think that is more than "exactly two". Even the NCSE grudgingly (and certainly conservatively) admits that 1% of scientists doubt evolution. Amusingly, evolution’s advocates are fond of saying how few dissenters there are, but whenever somebody tries to count the dissenters, they feign indignance and parody head counting. Guess you can’t fault them for trying to have it both ways.
Regardless,I clearly did say that the ID movement was “small.” Guess that wasn’t good enough for Leiter. So, Leiter, was “small” a “factual error” or “misleading innuendo?” Both, I’m sure. Additionally, Leiter seems to have difficulty reading full sentences: I never actually said in my Note that there is “significant controversy” among “scientists” - I said there was “significant controversy from a diverse group of critics.” Is Leiter seriously saying that naturalistic evolution’s monopoly in public schools hasn’t been a “significant controversy?” Ever heard of Epperson? McLean? The recent school board controversies in Texas, Ohio, Kansas, Montana, etc.? Of course, perhaps Leiter was reading my mind, because I do think there is a “significant controversy” on this issue - yes, even amongst scientists. Even if I had said such in my Note (which I didn’t), how can the characterization of something as a “significant controversy” constitute “scholarly fraud?” But the point is, Leiter blatantly and deliberately misquoted what I said without even bothering to use “misleading innuendo.”
Interestingly enough, Leiter says that evolutionary theory has ‘naturalistic implications.’ Thank you. That is the central premise of my review, except I don’t even go that far. I simply asserted that leading advocates act like it has ‘naturalistic implications.’ Leiter basically adopts my point wholesale and takes it further. If evolution has naturalistic implications in the sense that it implies some sort of naturalistic metaphysic, then it is antithetical to theistic religions, and should be excluded under the establishment clause. Being charitable, I think he is clumsily trying to say evolution is just like other sciences (e.g. his physics/chemistry analogy). But physics doesn’t just have naturalistic implications, it has an a priori naturalistic methodology. If you a priori pick a naturalistic methodology (which is a philosophical choice, not a scientific one), then of course you will get ‘naturalistic implications’ - i.e. results that only fit within a naturalistic paradigm - all others were excluded to begin with. So he is completely wrong that physics, chemistry, and evolution don’t have an a priori commitment to naturalistic methodology - of course they do (no offense, but this is a grievous error for a philo PhD to make - Leiter needs to brush up on his philosophy of science). In fact, John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, said as much: “A central tenet of modern science is methodological naturalism . . . ”
The problem is, with evolution, people like Leiter look at what is coming out the back side, forgetting that their method a priori excluded everything else on the front-side, and exult that it has ‘naturalistic implications.’ Of course it does. And my point is, when it is treated that way, this is just a philosophical shell game. If this makes some people sleep better, that’s fine. But when evolution’s ‘naturalistic implications’ (a byproduct of the a priori philosophy, not science itself) are taught or implied in school, and leading advocates of evolution advocate and act as if these ‘implications’ disprove philosophies involving theism, we have a problem; especially when the naturalistic philosophy has a convenient monopoly because of unbalanced application of the establishment clause. This, by the way, is the central premise of my Note - and completely unaddressed by either Leiter or Mooney.
Book Note: "This group, known as the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, also insists that 'intelligent agency' provides an origins paradigm that is better supported by the empirical evidence and gives greater coherence to our scientific observations and philosophical intuitions than does the philosophy of methodological naturalism underlying evolutionary orthodoxy."
Reality check: A footnote adducing the empirical evidence on behalf of ID would have been welcome, but there is none to be found, and for an obvious reason: none exists. (Fact-checkers, where are you?) The ID proponents have not published any articles in support of ID in peer-reviewed journals; indeed, they have never even stated a testable hypothesis in support of ID. "The philosophy of methodological naturalism" does not underlie "evolutionary" orthodoxy, it rather falls out of the tremendous success of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The enormous mass of genetic, paleontological, and zoological evidence in support of the theory lends support to evolution's naturalistic view of how the world works.
It is a book review, and I only have 8 pages. It isn’t a scientific or (more relevantly) a philosophical treatise. However, as said above, on pg. 967, I mention ID’s evidence and theories, cite 4 times to Beckwith’s book, and Beckwith cites to scientific and philosophical works. Give me a break.
As far as Leiter’s claim that ID proponents “have not published any articles . . . in peer-reviewed journals” - that is simply false. See here. See also here. Finally, see the new book Darwinism, Design, and the Public Education - a peer-reviewed book published by Mich. State Univ. Press. Leiter essentially admits in a later post that he did not know what he was talking about when he wrote this post (“I'll have to wait for Pharyngula [to bail me out on this].”). Trusty Meyers does come to Leiter’s rescue (notice how Meyers immediately also proudly shows off his aptitude for genetic fallacy - a theme he later continues in this post with a vengeance). Meyers’s exhibit number one to refute Axe’s peer-reviewed journal article - get this: Axe is a “closet” Intelligent Designer! Wow, that’s a shocker. We were all expecting the naturalistic evolutionists to write peer-reviewed articles supporting design theory! Not only is this ridiculous genetic fallacy, it isn’t very smart genetic fallacy. Meyer next does some hand-waving, pronounces the claim that the paper speaks “significant[ly]” to ID “ludicrous” (I guess we’re just supposed to trust him on this), and ignores the other three journal articles. While I’m not saying (and didn’t say in my Note) that the amount of peer-reviewed scientific literature is extensive, what Leiter says (“none exists” and “not published any articles . . . in peer-reviewed journals”) is just factually wrong. Instead of accusing him of “scholarly fraud,” I’ll just be charitable and conclude he doesn’t know what he is pontificating about.
Again, here he says that ‘methodological naturalism’ ‘falls out of’ the ‘theory of evolution.’ Does he realize what he is saying? He is again basically admitting evolution is a philosophy! You can’t get philosophical beliefs (e.g. methodological naturalism) directly from empirical science (e.g. natural selection). Leiter should know that. Of course MN underlies evolution (something he is denying) - evolutionists don’t debate that - they just say that it has to. When Leiter immediately follows his initial error with the assertion that evolution supports a ‘naturalistic view of how the world works,’ he inadvertently supports my Note’s argument: evolution is perceived by many of its supporters (one of which is clearly Leiter) as a metaphysic supported by science that informs their philosophical view of ‘how the world works,’ not just as another scientific theory limited to its proper domain. Again, he is conflating philosophy and empirical science here. He doesn’t seem to know where one begins and the other ends. This is not an uncommon phenomenon, but is a bit surprising coming from a PhD philosopher.
Book Note: "Not surprisingly, critics have loudly protested that the presentation in public school of any origins theory that alludes to a 'designer' violates the Establishment Clause -- even when, as is the case with the ID movement, the allusion is strictly predicated upon empirical and philosophical evidence without sectarian trappings."
Reality Check: As noted, there is no empirical evidence on behalf of ID. None is cited. None could be.
Book Note: "ID theorists maintain that, both philosophically and on the basis of the extant scientific evidence, intelligent agency in some instances may provide a better account of observed phenomena than MN and its workhorse theory, naturalistic evolution. Therefore, while lumping ID with creationism may be a good rhetorical strategy for ID's opponents, it only detracts from an independent and rigorous evaluation of the merits of ID's claims against those of naturalistic evolution."
Reality Check: ID's claims have been subjected to independent and rigorous evaluation and criticism by scientists, and have been found wanting. This is nowhere mentioned, or even noted in a footnote. Whoops. It makes sense to lump ID with creationism, since from a scientific point of view, they come to the same thing: ID is creationism for those who've consulted a lawyer and a public relations expert. By giving up the least plausible claims of the creationists (e.g., the literal truth of the Book of Genesis), ID avoids the major vulnerabilities of those trying to undermine science education. Whether that saves ID from constitutional challenge turns precisely on the scientific and empirical status of ID's claims--which is precisely what the Book Note never confronts, indeed, never acknowledges has been decisively challenged on numerous occasions.
First, above, Leiter falsely says there is no empirical evidence for ID. Then, down here, he says ID’s claims have been subjected to rigorous evaluation by scientists. Which is it? If ID has “no” empirical evidence, then why would it take ‘rigorous’ evaluation by scientists to refute? ID has indeed been ‘found wanting’ - not because its claims have been empirically refuted, but because ID won’t buy into an a priori MN philosophical presupposition with regard to origins. This is why people like Leiter - nonscientists - sometimes rabidly attack anyone foolish enough to challenge their deeply held, practically religious, belief-system.
In other words, ID has been “found wanting” on philosophical grounds, not empirical grounds. Some of ID’s claims are philosophical, as are some of naturalistic evolution’s - these by definition could never be refuted empirically. ID’s empirical claims about specific instances of irreducible complexity, information theory, etc., haven’t been refuted (see links to Behe below). However, if Leiter and other materialists want to refute the conceptual notions by which design theorists make these judgments about specific incidents of designed phenomena, then they have to offer responses appropriate to the subject matter of their analysis, i.e., conceptual or philosophical arguments. This would, of course, prove my point: the debate between ID and naturalistic evolution hinges on a deep philosophical dispute about what counts as knowledge and what is reality, i.e., epistemology and metaphysics proper. If someone, for example, gives you an argument for the ontological status of numbers - immaterial entities - it’s not a response to require that the arguer give you “empirical proof.” Perhaps Leiter can lead by example and provide (1) empirical proof for his scientific claim that one always needs empirical proof for a claim to be scientific, (2) empirical proof for his claim for the normative judgment that “scholarly fraud” is morally bad, and (3) a peer-reviewed article in the natural sciences whose conclusions depend solely on empirical proof and not on any non-empirical conceptual notions whatsoever. Good luck!
Second, I disagree with Leiter’s claim that ID has been subjected to “rigorous evaluation” by scientists (although, unlike Leiter, I won’t accuse Leiter of “scholarly fraud” on this point). I think Behe, here and here, gives a better illustration of how ID’s claims are subjected to “rigorous [sic] evaluation” than I could independently explain.
To turn the issue around, how have evolution’s claims held up? Stephen Gould himself sharply criticized the paucity of intermediate forms in the fossil record, but is this considered to refute evolution? No. The fact is, because evolution is so heavily based on philosophy, and because it is continually adjusted when new discoveries that compromise it arise (or, more often, when anticipated evidence fails to materialize) - it is practically irrefutable. Innumerable claims of evolution have been ‘found wanting,’ but the theory is always just adjusted to “accommodate” or ignore the new evidence. Meyers, in his Pharyngula post discussed above, as much as admits this when he accuses Dembski of refuting an “antiquated and simplistic version of evolution.” Sorry, it’s just that it's really hard to hit such a fast moving target.
As far as ID being creationism - Beckwith’s whole book is about that! Yes, at some level of absurd reduction everyone who isn’t a strict materialist could be accused of being a creationist (again, read my Note - fn. 6). However, from the perspective of establishment clause jurisprudence, ID differs significantly from creationism, which is what leads Beckwith to the conclusion that, while creationism clearly fails the court’s current establishment clause jurisprudence (Epperson), ID doesn’t. Simply saying ID is creationism doesn’t make it so (nice try, Leiter). Also, nice conclusory bit about ‘those trying to undermine science education.’ Who’s biased here? Leiter’s obvious bias is only amusing because he has the audacity to infer argument stopping bias against any IDer who happens to be religious. See here (where Leiter gleefully displays his prowess at arguing via genetic fallacy: “[p]lainly the most significant fact about Demski's credentials is the divinity degree.”). Brace yourself Leiter - this may hurt - religious people can be scientists too.
Book Note: "ID theorists argue that within evolutionary theory an a priori philosophical commitment to MN has exerted much more influence on the interpretation of available evidence than is commonly acknowledged."
Reality Check: It is not an a priori commitment, and one line from the polemical Richard Dawkins doesn't show that it is.
Reality Check: Clearly it is (see above), as philosophers of science wouldn’t argue (they only insist that MN is essential and try in vain to apply demarcation theories). Leiter might benefit from reading Kuhn or Laudan on science’s a priori commitments.
Reality Check two: Read my Note. I quote 7 (not “one line”) of the most celebrated names in evolutionary circles to support my point. I could have quoted more, but I didn’t have that much room.
Reality Check three: The utter irony of Leiter calling Dawkins polemical!
Book Note: "Thus, ID theorists insist that strict adherence to MN has actually impeded, rather than facilitated, an open scientific study of origins.
Reality Check: Biologists would be more likely to credit this assertion if, in fact, ID theorists had any scientific advances to their credit, indeed, if they had even managed to state a testable hypothesis.
ID theorists point to, among other things, the specified complexity of organisms that infers design, the irreducible complexity of some biological systems, and the improbability of having such a fine-tuned universe apart from a designer (all these are mentioned in my Note). At root, however, ID and evolution differ essentially in their a priori approach to the evidence - hence given the same empirical evidence they quite likely will have different results (e.g. if you a priori exclude falling from the sky as one of the causes of a rock being here, you will never determine that the rock fell from the sky - not because it is an impossibility, but because you excluded that possibility). I know this may come as a shocker to all you materialists out there with your pet demarcation theories, but it probably isn’t possible to prove/disprove either ID or naturalistic evolution from a purely empirical standpoint.
But the empirical evidence may fit better in one paradigm than the other. For example, evolutionists have been asked to show one example of genetic information increasing in an organism. Every observed change is either a conservation or loss of genetic information - no observed gains. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a bombastic academic) to figure out that without a mechanism to create information gains, Darwinism is in big trouble. This empirical observation clearly fits better within the ID paradigm. Similarly, the fossil record is absent the millions of transitory forms that should be there. But, just as for some, vituperative remarks can substitute for insightful analysis, often, philosophical dogmatism bridges many an empirical gap.
It is ironic that Leiter accuses me of ‘leaving things out’ when he neglects to mention the myriad of past evolutionary ‘proofs’ that have since been shown not to support evolution; or worse, shown to be frauds: Haeckel’s embryos (fraud), peppered moths (fraud), many “ape-men” fossils (frauds or later rejected), supposed vestigial organs (later found to have uses), etc., etc. What is even more ironic is that, despite everyone agreeing these are invalid “proofs” of evolution, they still predominate in school textbooks and people like Leiter fight like crazy against attempts to get them removed (e.g. the recent Texas controversy). Again, evolution can’t be disproved, not because it has such sound scientific footing (or uncheckered past scientific support) - far from it - rather, because naturalistic evolution is a deeply held naturalistic philosophy that is willing to adapt itself to much new evidence and ignore the rest. Said differently, it is unfalsifiable, which is the charge evolution’s dogmatic proponents often hurl pejoratively at ID, and one of the main bases that J. Overton used to shoot down creationism in McLean.
Finally, Leiter, like many dogmatic Darwinists, points to all the “scientific advances” we have achieved from evolution. I’ve heard this vague allusion a lot but Iwonder what these are? Frankly, I suspect this a bait and switch game. I’m sure our empirical understanding of natural selection and other empirically verifiable processes oft affiliated with naturalistic evolution has contributed greatly to scientific advancement. But empirically verifiable natural selection isn’t naturalistic evolution - it is merely the mechanism evolutionists point to as their engine (but ignoring the major shortcoming of no observed mechanism for adding genetic information). So, barring scientific advancements attributable to natural selection, or some other observed phenomenon incorporated into but not essentially ‘evolution’ (i.e. like natural selection, it wouldn’t count to point to something that could exist independently if the meta-evolutionary theory was abandoned), I wonder if evolution could meet Leiter’s demands and show “any scientific advances to [its] credit?” I know it has many atrocities to its credit. The aborigines in Australia were subjected to gruesome experiments because they weren’t considered fully human. Some instances of racism have been attributed to evolutionary understandings of anthropology (e.g. the evolution section of the biology textbook at issue in the Scopes Trial was clearly racist). Evolutionary philosophy practically applied, like Leiter’s attempts to rectify the supposed ignorance of lesser mortals, can get pretty ugly.
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.
If Leiter took off his blinders for a moment (obviously, anything he disagrees with is “incompetent nonsense”), he would see that the Harvard Law Review didn’t abandon anything – we just didn’t censor. Shame on us.
Note: The views expressed above are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Harvard Law Review editorial staff - lest Leiter next accuse the entire Harvard Law Review of “scholarly fraud.”