From the archive

I saw a couple of hours ago that Daniel Dennett has left the stage, and I put off mentioning it because it displeases me.

Let’s turn our minds back to December 2006 and the day Judge Jones issued his ruling in the Kitzmiller case. It inspired me to fire off an email to Richard Dawkins inviting him to comment for publication here, which he immediately did, eloquently.

Judge John Jones has given the Founding Fathers the first really good reason to stop spinning in their graves since the Bush junta moved in. It would have been a scandal if any judge had not found against the ID charlatans, but I had expected that he would do so with equivocation: some sort of ‘on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand’ consolation prize for the cavemen of creationism. Not a bit of it. Judge Jones rumbled them, correctly described them as liars and sent them packing, with the words “breathtaking inanity” burning in their ears. The fact that this splendid man is a republican has got to be a good sign for the future. I think the great republic has turned a corner this week and is now beginning the slow, painful haul back to its enlightened, secular foundations.

So I felt encouraged to ask more, and Daniel Dennett was the next up.

Judge John E. Jones’s opinion in the Dover Area School District case is an excellently clear and trenchant analysis of the issues, exposing the fatuity and disingenuousness of the ID movement both in this particular case and in general. However I found one point in it that left me uneasy. In the Conclusion, on page 136, Jones says “Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator [emphasis added].” I have not read the scientific experts’ testimony, and I wonder if Judge Jones has slightly distorted what they said. If they said that the theory of evolution in no way conflicts with the existence of a divine creator, then I must say that I find that claim to be disingenuous. The theory of evolution demolishes the best reason anyone has ever suggested for believing in a divine creator. This does not demonstrate that there is no divine creator, of course, but only shows that if there is one, it (He?) needn’t have bothered to create anything, since natural selection would have taken care of all that. Would the good judge similarly agree that when a defense team in a murder trial shows that the victim died of natural causes, that this in no way conflicts with the state’s contention that the death in question had an author, the accused? What’s the difference?

Gods have been given many job descriptions over the centuries, and science has conflicted with many of them. Astronomy conflicts with the idea of a god, the sun, driving a fiery chariot pulled by winged horses – a divine charioteer. Geology conflicts with the idea of a god who sculpted the Earth a few thousand years ago – a divine planet-former. Biology conflicts with the idea of a god who designed and built the different living species and all their working parts – a divine creator. We don’t ban astronomy and geology from science classes because they conflict with those backward religious doctrines, and we should also acknowledge that evolutionary biology does conflict with the idea of a divine creator and nevertheless belongs in science classes because it is good science.

I think that what the expert scientists may have meant was that the theory of evolution by natural selection in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine . . . prayer-hearer, or master of ceremonies, or figurehead. That is true. For people who need them, there are still plenty of job descriptions for God that are entirely outside the scope of evolutionary biology.

The Kitzmiller Decision

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