Academic Freedom Evaporates

by David Klinghoffer

Americans like to think of our university system as a haven for unimpeded truth-seeking, where tenured professors press the boundaries of knowledge, no holds barred. The picture is attractive but false when it comes to scholarly consideration of big questions such as: Is the universe meaningful?

Just ask Iowa State University astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez. His troubling case is a parable illustrating the limits of academic inquiry, and not only at ISU. Despite a stellar research record, Gonzalez is being forced out of his job for expressing his view on a scientific matter possessing religious implications.

In 2004, Gonzalez co-wrote a book called “The Privileged Planet.” He argued that life on Earth and our ability to make scientific discoveries about the cosmos depend on a host of incredibly improbable planetary conditions, suggesting intelligent design rather than a cosmic accident.

Gonzalez never taught this material to students. But if he and co-author Jay Richards are right, then the late astronomer Carl Sagan was wrong when he mocked our human “delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe.”

Gonzalez was up for tenure this spring at ISU, where 91 percent of tenure applications in 2007 were approved. In the same season, a religious-studies teacher, Hector Avalos, was elevated to a full professorship despite wildly anti-religious statements in a 2005 book, “Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence,” which compared the Bible unfavorably with Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” Avalos wrote, “Mein Kampf does not contain a single explicit command for genocide equivalent to those found in the Hebrew Bible.”

But it was Gonzalez, not Avalos, who was seen as going too far. In 2005, 120 members of the Iowa State faculty signed a petition targeting Gonzalez, though not by name, and denouncing intelligent design.

Intelligent design is a blanket term for arguments that a designer directed nature’s evolution. But Gonzalez’s research is about astronomy, not biology. In that research, he shines.

The criteria for tenure in Iowa State’s Department of Physics and Astronomy include a candidate’s publication record. According to a Smithsonian/NASA astrophysics database, Gonzalez’s scientific articles from 2001 to 2007 rank the highest among astronomers in his department, according to a standard measure of how frequently they have been cited by other scientists. He has published 68 peer-reviewed articles, which beats the department’s standard for tenure by 350 percent. He has also co-authored a standard astronomy textbook used by his faculty colleagues.

Some say he didn’t raise enough in research grants. But according to his department’s published criteria, fundraising is not a test for tenure.

So far the university’s top academic, Provost Elizabeth Hoffman, has not intervened to protect Gonzalez’s free speech, which is interesting, because her previous job was as president of the University of Colorado, where she defended the academic freedom of another embattled professor, Ward Churchill, to write as he pleased.

Churchill is the famous fellow who penned an essay justifying the deaths of the victims in the 9/11 attacks, calling those who worked in the World Trade Center “little Eichmanns.”

If the professorial hierarchy at Iowa State doesn’t see this case as a challenge to academic freedom, the context of our times explains why.

With atheist tracts on the bestseller list and the rest of academia aghast at the heresy of intelligent design in biology, Gonzalez’s colleagues must think their prestige depends on giving no quarter to any hint of support for religion.

At ISU and similarly benighted universities, a scientist who offers such support is beyond the pale, less acceptable than a scholar who merely compares the dead of 9/11 to Nazis, or who calls the Bible worse than Hitler. So it goes in the strange world of the professoriate.

DAVID KLINGHOFFER is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is the author of “Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History” and other books.

This article appeared in the Des Moines Register, June 2.

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32 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    There must be a market for a product that would function better than the one offered up by our American academic elite. Collectively, with financial backing, those professors unjustly flushed from the system should be able to set up alternative, better-functioning institutions. What parents, given a choice, would prefer to spend the big bucks to send their kids away to be educated to hate their own religion and country?

  2. Charles B. Hall says:

    It happens that I am the co-chair of an academic committee that decides which Assistant Professors at my institution become Associate Professors. At my institution, that promotion does not come with tenure, but at most institutions, it does (and that is apparently the case at Iowa State).

    The sad fact is that at many institutions, the promotion and tenure process is not fair, and many matters that are not strictly academic enter into the decision making. I do my best to ensure that this does not happen at my institution. But in fact, most Assistant Professors are better off not publishing anything too controversial if they want to have long careers in academia.

    That said, so-called “intelligent design” is rejected by mainstream biological science. Similarly, the ideas that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, that the earth isn’t getting warmer, that cigarette smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, that command economies are more efficient than free markets at allocating resources, and that the Shoah didn’t happen are all ideas that are beyond the pale of their own respective disciplines. To promote “intelligent design” as it is usually expressed is actually to reject an important fundamental of scientific methodology. While I have not read Prof. Gonzalez book, if Mr. Kinghoffer’s description is accurate the situation is similar to what would (should?) happen if a rosh yeshiva at an orthodox rabbinical school published a book that rejected the authority of the oral torah.

  3. Yirmeyahu says:

    “While I have not read Prof. Gonzalez book, if Mr. Kinghoffer’s description is accurate the situation is similar to what would (should?) happen if a rosh yeshiva at an orthodox rabbinical school published a book that rejected the authority of the oral torah.”

    A Yeshiva doesn’t claim to reject Dogma or have academic freedom.

  4. HILLEL says:

    Dear Mr. Hall:

    Your analogy of scientific orthodoxy to Torah Orthodoxy leaves me almost speechless–almost, but not quite.

    Torah is G-D’s revealed truth given to Mankind at Sinai and through the Torah sages of each generation.

    Science is not revealed truth. In fact, it is not truth at all; it is merely hypothesis, subject to revision as soon as it is challenged by new data.

    The essence os science if the freedom to present new data for peer discussion.

    If new data that demonstrates the existence of G-D in the management of the world is foreclosed, then science is a sham, a mere make-blieve world, in which atheism is accepted as a fundamental truth (“revealed?), which cannot be challenged.

    The Gonzales incident, and your very revealing comment on it indicates that “science,” as practiced today has become an alternate religion of atheim and rejection of G-D.–for shame!

  5. Tal Benschar says:

    if Mr. Kinghoffer’s description is accurate the situation is similar to what would (should?) happen if a rosh yeshiva at an orthodox rabbinical school published a book that rejected the authority of the oral torah

    Do you realize what you are saying? That modern academia is as dogmatic as a theological seminary. That is an astounding statement.

  6. Irving Lillien says:

    You have overlooked a possibly important aspect of this situation. Do the provincials at that college have room for a Hispanic colleague like Professor Gonzalez? How many Hispanics are employed as faculty or administrators at Iowa State?

  7. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Charles B. Hall is hinting at the very relevant point that while science does not have dogmas, scientists do. Scientists are not immune to the natural human tendency not to look too closely at things that appear impossible based on what they know.

    Albert Einstein was so open minded that he could see the progress of time as variable and space itself as curved – both concepts that were close to heresy from the perspective of Newtonian Physics. Yet even he rejected the uncertainty principle with what was essentially a dogmatic claim ( ).

    Irving Lillien, do you have evidence of racism, or are you just assuming people in “fly-over” country are racist? If you look at the department page, , you’ll find a number of people with last names that don’t sound white.

  8. Eytan Kobre says:

    Re the comment by Mr. Hall:

    1) Would any of the commenters who, a few weeks back, were so outraged by Toby Katz’s use of anorexia to make a point about Jewish heterodoxy, care to weigh in on Mr. Hall’s casual reference to intelligent design proponents and Holocaust deniers in the same breath?

    2) It’s interesting that a scientist, such as Mr. Hall is, places so much weight on the notion of “mainstream,” which, one would think should be anathema to a truth-seeker.

    3) ID isn’t “rejected by . . . biological science,” mainstream or otherwise. It is, rather, rejected by scientists, all of them human, all of them flawed and possessed of the same egos and agendas as plumbers are (come to think of it, more . . . ).

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Eytan Kobre, it’s true that scientists place much weight on the notion of “mainstream”. They do it because of two reasons:

    1. There is too much science for anybody to understand. Outside their own field of expertise, scientists have to rely on what the experts believe. Imagine working in a field where the equivalent of the Talmud (in length, not necessarily depth) is published every year. Most scientific fields are like that.

    2. Within their field of expertise scientists have much more expertise to evaluating ideas. However, they are still limited by time. They can’t look at every suggestion in depth.

    Is it imperfect? Yes. Can you show me a human system that isn’t? But it’s better than what we had before.

  10. David N. Friedman says:

    I thank C-C for publicizing David Klinghoffer’s legitimate complaint about academic freedom in our nation’s colleges and the witch-hunt against Guillermo Gonzales. I believe that our Jewish community has a stake in this sad episode and I will happily send a letter of protest to Provost Elizabeth Hoffman.

    Charles Hall believes that Gonzalez is no victim at all, rather, simply someone who should have known better than to put his foot in controversy. Worse, Mr. Hall, then defines what he means when he likens a design hypothesis (he admits to not even having read any of Gonzalez’ writings) to Holocaust denial. Eytan Kobre is surely on Klinghoffer’s side and yet understates the point by admitting that “ID… is rejected by scientists…” without giving due weight to number of P.H.D scientists who pointedly disagree with the theory put forward by the materialist naturalists about first causes. Gonzales does not at all “reject some fundamentals of scientific methodology” rather–he is simply putting together those recognized forces and is willing to reach a coherent and logical conclusion. For Klinghoffer, and I would suggest for anyone interested in science and academic freedom ON EITHER SIDE of the argument–that is the outrage.

    On the one hand, academia is willing to give great license to frauds and hate-mongers on the banner of free speech and yet, on the other, they allow serious scientists to be silenced if and when their conclusions don’t fit into some prescribed formula.

    In the book and the short movie Klinghoffer references, Gonzales recites the dozens of factors necessary for the possibility of life in a functional universe and explains the miraculous fine tuning of the universe. Each of these factors is a scientific revelation and when we look at all of them together as a group phenomenon, a conclusion that nature’s laws were pre-ordained is obvious.

    Many may recall when the Big Bang discovery was initially made, most of the talk centered on the overturning of the theory of an eternal universe and supported the Biblical statement of a “beginning” which proved the existence of the Almighty, by implication. Since that time, spin in the secular community has now quelled all of that talk and Prof. Gonzales’ “sin” is that he is counting the well-known scientific miracles that are now known beyond the Big Bang.

    The debate is philosophical, as Einstein said: “One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.” Yet, for some, they see parts of that structure that seem so obviously designed and they yawn instead of being in awe. Gonzales suggests that one might yawn over one or two coincidences but when he as a scientist looks at the dozens of factors that allow for the reality of the universe–he agrees with Einstein. It seems that even as nature’s laws reveal a complexity that science never fully appreciated until recent decades, it is essential to pretend that it is all pretty basic stuff. I recall a feature in the NYT that exclaimed as proof of “evolution” the charting of a single plant hormone called auxin. Using elaborate computers and decades of research, scientists can now get a grip on what auxin looks like. How the heck it actually works is no one’s guess. How it might have naturally evolved is beyond speculation–it is only important that the readers of the NYT know that it surely did. The proof is complete merely in the allegation and if this is the stuff of true science, we are regressing instead of progressing.

    As a Jew, I am gratified that hundreds of hard-headed scientists are speaking in a way that confirms the Torah’s perspective. Gonzales is one of those scientists and it is disturbing that an entrenched elite is willing to police the entire scientific community with such ferocity that basic freedom is being lost in the process. Klinghoffer undersold his argument by failing to emphasize that the problem he describes at Iowa State is a nation wide issue.

  11. David says:

    What I think Charlie Hall means to say is that science always and HAS to go by an explanation that excludes God, whether or not ultimately it is true or not. This is what I think is referred to as scientism. For example, when science estimates that the chances of our universe popping into existence with all the pyhsical laws just so, (gravity, nuclear force, etc.) at a figure of one followed by 123 zeroes, (and if you say you comprehend that number, you’re lying),the only explanation science can give is that there MUST have been an infinite number of universes popping into existence and being destroyed until our universe came along with just the right charachteristics. Now an honest scientist will say that that is all science has to offer in order to explain it and you can take it or leave it, and an atheist will somehow believe that believing in that is somehow more rational than believing in a God, but I think that these are the parameters for this discussion.

    As an aside to the figure of one followed by 123 zeroes, according to one source cited in Wikipedia, the number of atoms in the ENTIRE observable universe, with a figure of 80 billion galaxies at an average number of 400 billion stars per galaxy is ‘only’ 3 followed by 79 zeroes.

  12. ASC says:

    Rather than the flawed rosh yeshiva analogy, Hall might better have said, “the situation is similar to what would (should?) happen if a Shakespeare scholar published a book declaring that the work we attribute to ‘Shakespeare’ was written by space monsters — because what we know of human intelligence precludes the idea that a human could have written works of such genius. Furthermore, the same scholar also bases his thesis on centuries of literature by other people who believe Shakespeare was written by space monsters.”

    The academic rejection of intelligent design is not (necessarily)ideological but methodological. The methodological flaw of intelligent design, writes physician Burt Humburg, is that it “can substitute supernatural explanations that can never be tested and do not predict other findings in the place of natural hypotheses that can be tested and do predict other findings. (A direct intervention by God may possibly ‘explain’ but it does not predict other interventions, nor is it testable. One cannot put God in a test tube, nor can one keep him out.)”

  13. SM says:

    Mr Gonzalez is suffering because he is identified with a group of people who hypocritically try to use science to prove something (intelligent design) whilst simultaneously decrying the ability of science to prove anything (because they can only measure the physical which makes the whole project irrlelevant).

    That may not be his stance – but he has associated themselves with those who adopt it. Can he really complain that, having strayed into the middle of the fire, he is then burned by it? I don’t know, and there is nothing in the article which gives me that information.

    This debate suffers from being only in the hands of those who insist on using the information to prove a pre-formed view, rather than to ask what it shows. And that applies to scientists and to the proponents of intelligent design.

    One of the best proofs of God is the evolutionary desire to be good, and the status awarded to good people in every society (the definition of ‘good’ is another matter but does not impinge on this debate). This urge should then make us ‘fit’ to survive – whereas history shows almost exactly the opposite. However, add in a world to come and a God who judges – and the equation is reversed.

    So, we can accept evolution and still have intelligent design. There is no need to adopt either maximalist position. And there is no need to insist that scientists must have faith or that believers must reject science.

    Finally, attacking Charles Hall for expressing a view with which people disagree – and particularly deliberately inflating the effect of his comment on the Shoah in order to express outrage – is distasteful. He is a regular contributor here, and no one of good faith could really believe he holds some of the views attributed to him above.

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    ASC and Dr. Humburg point out the depths of the flawed thinking inherent in the a priori disqualification of “Intellegent Design.” As SM pointed out, Prof. Gonzales is identified with some group — regardless of whether or not any of his writings warrant it. The only unifying thread among proponents of ID is the belief that random chance is an insufficient explanation for the appearance of human beings (and the whole range of species) on planet earth. That’s the whole story. Those who disqualify Prof. Gonzales because of Christian crazies promoting “Scientific Creationism” are avoiding honest intellectual inquiry.

    What Dr. Humburg said is simply untrue. As someone famously put it, but I don’t remember whom, a frog could birth a chicken and it would not disprove evolution. Macro-evolution is thus anything but testable, and predicts nothing.

  15. HILLEL says:

    The technical term for the mental disease that afflicts evolutionary “scientists” is COGNITIVE DISSONANCE–an inability to accept any idea that conflicts with their basic worldview.

  16. Michael says:

    R. Yaakov Menken wrote Comment 14:
    What Dr. Humburg said is simply untrue. As someone famously put it, but I don’t remember whom, a frog could birth a chicken and it would not disprove evolution. Macro-evolution is thus anything but testable, and predicts nothing.

    I think part of the problem is that people are focused on the question of whether or not we can historically prove the evolutionary process on a macro scale. To me, that is not the important point. The theory of evolution has scientific value whether or not the predictions that emerge from it actually transpired. For example: Let’s say that evolutionary science predicts that species A diverged 50 million years ago from species B. We can compare DNA or amino acid sequences from both species and examine their similarities and differences. Evolutionary biology allows for this comparison because it can establish the principles of a molecular clock (ie given a certain amount of time since the assumed divergence of two species and other known circumstances, how are DNA sequences expected to change?) Yes, this does have a real world result. The comparison of DNA sequences between two species can yield the identification of functional homologous genes, whose sequences differ to the extent that they would not have been deemed homologous had it not been for the ability to compare them.
    It seems that while evolution in a historical sense is not testable, it can allow predictions of phenomena that we can observe. Until this point, I have not heard from ID proponents how that theory might be used in a predictive manner.

  17. ASC says:

    “As SM pointed out, Prof. Gonzales is identified with some group—regardless of whether or not any of his writings warrant it. The only unifying thread among proponents of ID is the belief that random chance is an insufficient explanation for the appearance of human beings (and the whole range of species) on planet earth. That’s the whole story.”

    Well, yes and no. Gonzalez is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute, which has taken up his cause. Jonahan Witt is also a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute. In a recent blog post, Witt writes that “Galileo stands with Gonzalez. The great 17th-century astronomer insisted that ‘the great book … the universe … is written in the mathematical language,’ and that the author of that book was God. Another founder of modern science, Johannes Kepler, said that in discovering his three mathematically elegant laws of planetary motion, he was simply ‘thinking God’s thoughts after Him.'”

    Perhaps Witt is speaking out of turn, in suggesting that when Gonzalez writes that the universe “could be designed for a purpose,” he is really speaking about God. But this is not a rogue theory at the Discovery Isntitute — it is its basic reason for being, and it does a disservice to the Discovery Institute and the truth to suggest that its goal is anything less than reconciling science with God.

    If it weren’t, why would the contributors to this blog be so invested in the outcome of its work? It’s wonderful that you seek to reconcile your deep faith with the methods of science. Kol hakavod. But it seems disingenuous to pretend that Gonzalez is not in the service of that very goal.

  18. Charles B. Hall says:

    To all:

    I deliberately did not compare the people who promote holocaust denial to people who promote so-called “intelligent design”, I compared the ideas themselves. Promoters of holocaust denial are mostly anti-Semites of the vilest sort while people who promote ID are mostly pious religious people. Perhaps I should have made this more clear. I apologize for any offense; it was not intentional.

    WADR to Rabbi Menken, ID proponents in general do not follow norms of scientific research in that they do not attempt to formulate theories that have predictive value, ID also relies on absolute likelihood arguments that have a very limited place in science; what really matters is the relative likelihood of competing scientific hypotheses. ID therefore can and must be rejected by the scientific community just as holocaust deniers who reject norms of historical inquiry can and must be rejected by historians, and heterodox Jewish movements who reject or improperly manipulate the rabbinic tradition can and must be rejected by the religious community.

    This of course flies in the face of the now-popular postmodernist belief that all ideas deserve to be given equal respect. Judaism is about making distinctions and is thus philosophically the opposite of such postmodernism, which unfortunately has become a leading secular worldview of much (fortunately not all) of western academia and is today the major philosophic challenge to both science and traditional religion.

    And rejection of ID has nothing to do with religious belief. I believe 100% (with perfect faith, as Rambam would say) that every single scientific observation I analyze was the result of the hand of HaShem. Science addresses “how?” and not “why?”; as a discipline it is not only incapable of addressing the question of the existence or non-existence of a divine being (and how can any true believer possibly subject God to empirical tests?), it is incapable of addressing any moral or ethical question whatsoever. Once a moral or ethical basis has been established, science might well be able to help one to follow a moral and ethical path, but the source for such can not ultimately come from empirical observation.

    Unfortunately, scientists have not in general done a good job at explaining the nature of science to non-scientists. I appreciate this opportunity to explain a little of the nature of science and to defend its complete compatibility with religious belief and practice. I welcome further discussion and/or correspondence; may all such be for the sake of Heaven.

  19. Ori Pomerantz says:

    OK, Charles B. Hall issued a challenge. Find an observation that should go one way if ID is correct, another if it is not. Any ideas?

  20. David N. Friedman says:

    David Klinghoffer’s very legitimate complaint has been lost in this discussion. Prof. Gonzalez does not even discuss ID in the classroom. He is the author of 68 peer-reviewed scientific papers, he has a PHD in astronomy and has an extensive professional resume. He co-wrote the textbook used in his classes and the book references nothing of the the evolution vs. ID controversy. If one wishes to research his scientific writings, please go right ahead and cite what he has said that is objectionable, controversial or “theist.” His Iowa State teachings and writings are heavy on physics, eclipses, asteroids and berylium isotopes. Prof. Gonzalez is a very fine academic and has been refused tenure based upon his association with the Discovery Institute, that is, his outside employment. This is beyond “unfair” and is outrageous.

    Charles Hall has likened the ideas behind ID to Holocaust denial and this line of attack is part and parcel of what has smeared Prof. Gonzales. While Holocaust denial is in complete contradiction of the facts of history and believed by less than 5% of the US population–the belief in a designing intelligence is supported by at least 70% of the population and has the highest pedigree in scientific history. Support for the conclusion that highly complex systems have an intelligent cause is based in logic and science. By contrast, the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS or cigarette smoking does not cause lung cancer is supported by no one. The bias says that the ID movement is supported “mostly by pious religious people”–there is little in Prof. Gonzalez’s outside writings to indicate that he is a mostly pious religious person. It is some bit of irony that Charles Hall has said on this folder (an example of outside writing) that he believes that God’s hand is visible in every scientific observation he makes and this must make him much more of a theist than Prof. Gonzalez. (If God’s hand is visible in every scientific observation, the answer to HOW? is obviously by God–this is not the point of view of ID theory.)

    As Geoffrey Simmons put it in his book “Billions of Missing Links”–“if evolution is the explanation, then evolution has a lot of explaining to do.” The very complaints wrongly leveled against ID, correctly apply to the religion of Darwinism.

    Charles, you lament that “science has not done a good job at explaining the nature of science to non-scientists.” I object. By judicial fiat, Darwin has established a monopoly in the classroom and has been shoved down our throats with impunity for decades. After all the propaganda, most Americans cannot swallow it–even with all the ridicule and shame placed upon us for not believing “scientific fact.”

    Prof Gonzales, is simply one of over 500 PHD scientists willing to announce publicly (perhaps another 5000 believe so privately but out of fear will not admit it) that they seriously question the evolutionist narrative–and almost all have jobs at academic institutions. One by one, should they all be fired?

    Based purely on the merits of the scientific quality of the argument, the theory that our universe has no evidence of a designing intelligence will remain a faith-based speculation instead of a scientific fact.

  21. Charles B. Hall says:

    “believed by less than 5% of the US population—the belief in a designing intelligence is supported by at least 70% of the population”

    This argument follows from the postmodernist idea that everyone is equally an expert. It is not much different from the argument of Korach! Truth is truth, no matter what fraction of the population believes in it. 89% of the Jewish population of the United States identifies as non-Orthodox. Does that make the heterodox movements correct?

    “the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS or cigarette smoking does not cause lung cancer is supported by no one”

    The former is unfortunately not true:

    Regarding the latter, tobacco companies did finally give up their fiction in the late 1990s.

    “the theory that our universe has no evidence of a designing intelligence will remain a faith-based speculation instead of a scientific fact”

    I repeat what I wrote earlier: Science is incapable of addressing the existence or non-existence of a divine being. This is not a theory, it is a limitation of methodology. A corollary is that the universe can offer no scientific evidence AGAINST the existence of a designing intelligence, either.

  22. HILLEL says:

    To Dr. Hall:

    So, what is your bottom line?

    Are you justifying the firing of Mr. Gonzlez for being religious?

    Do you believe that G-D created the world and actively manages it? If so, would your university administration have the right to fire you for a “lack of objectivity?”

  23. Yaakov Menken says:

    Sigh. I think (hope?) that Charles Hall already knows that he isn’t explaining science to a non-scientist when it comes to yours truly, as well as Prof. Gonzales and any number of others. I will admit that I am not impressed with David Friedman’s reference to the US population, as if truth were to be found in a majority vote of the uninformed. But that’s hardly what I have argued.

    As I have said previously, the theory of random macro-evolution has no greater predictive value than ID — and the search for “predictive value” is, in the end, as irrelevant to the issue of truth as a straw poll.

    There is only one case where you could find a probable conflict in predictions. The theory of evolution offers the possibility of vestigial organs — organs that might once have served a purpose in an earlier life form, but no longer have positive value. ID, while not necessarily contradicting that, at least offers the alternate possibility that a greater wisdom than our own was at work, and our failure to discover an organ’s purpose is not proof that they have none. [Let’s not forget that we still have very little understanding of how, for example, the brain does what it does. Biology is considered far less advanced than physics, for example — and 40 years ago most physicists thought the universe was eternal.]

    Two examples: the tonsils and the appendix, both of which were deemed “vestigial” by Darwinists. Today it is known that the tonsils help build immunities and the appendix produces antibodies. The rate of tonsillectomies has declined — however, to this day it is routine to remove a healthy appendix during most any surgical procedure creating an opening nearby. Without any sign of illness, a surgeon operating nearby will simply snip the appendix and get it out of the way, because today’s operating [sic] assumption is that any benefit we might get from an appendix is more than outweighed by the likelihood of developing appendicitis.

    As I said, though, the issue of predictive value is irrelevant to the truth. If secular scientists do not wish to debate evolution vs. ID, then let them admit that they don’t really know more than that species have similar DNA. The idea that one theory of the truth should be taught because it is somehow of greater “value,” and another theory discarded (despite its greater probability of being correct) because it is of lesser “value,” is one of the more ludicrous features of “Scientific Creationism.” So I would hope that the effort to disqualify ID could stand on its merits in terms of accuracy or inaccuracy, rather than a perceived “value” or other external factor.

  24. David N. Friedman says:

    One last try, Charles.

    I regret you refuse to acknowledge the complaint leveled by David Klinghoffer. ID is not on trial and Prof. Gonzalez is not charged with the supposed “crime” of teaching ID in his classroom or submitting for peer review only research that attempts to legitimate design theory. He has merely been “outed” as a skeptic of Darwin–like many other PHD professionals. Doubting Darwin is not at all similar to doubting the Holocaust.

    This has nothing to do with post-modernism or whether or not all ideas are equal–since they are obviously not. The belief that approx. 6 million Jews did not die at the hands of the Germans is demonstrably false. It is a lie. Similarly, many people–even a plurality in some communities, deny that any Muslims were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks–and many people believe that the US planned or participated in the attacks as a means to attack the Muslim world. The fact that people can be paranoid and believe lies and myths is very true. I would be quicker than you to agree that simply because some people believe something is no reason to assert that this is evidence that the belief is true or scientific. It comes down to the quality of the arguments and the evidence.

    To link the idea of a patent falsehood with the theory that one can see plan, purpose and design in the universe is not rational. The inference to design is a scientific theory and is used in many scientific fields including criminology. As they are prone to argue at the DI, if we had to PROVE that Mount Rushmore was man-made and not a natural phenomenom–we would be forced to make precisely the same kind of arguments made by design theorists. To convince skeptics that a sound wave from deep space was the product of intelligence instead of a natural event, scientific criteria would be employed.

    Science is very capable of assessing whether or not there is plan and purpose–but largely as a theory and an INFERENCE. Science lacks any evidence of macro-evolutionary events and this does not stop Darwinists from screaming to the high heaven that it is a scientific fact and denies tenure to anyone who disagrees–even if they disagree quietly, with respect and outside the professional environment. Real science does not demean respected people and insist that what it cannot prove must be true in spite of the evidence.

    Regarding ultimate truths, the correct scientific conclusion, it seems to me, is that no one knows one way or the other. This being the case, science should not prejudice this kind of discussion since it is highly philosophical and theoretical.

  25. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken: As I have said previously, the theory of random macro-evolution has no greater predictive value than ID

    Ori: Macro-evolution would predict that there would be more genetic similarity in the non activated parts of the DNA between a dolphin and a cat than between a dolphin and a shark, since the common ancestor of dolphins and cats is more recent than the common ancestor of dolphins and sharks.

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken: —and the search for “predictive value” is, in the end, as irrelevant to the issue of truth as a straw poll.

    Ori: True, but scientists only know how to handle theories with predictive value. Asking them to evaluate a theory without predictive value is like asking a Rabbi to rule if it’s better to use Windows or Linux. The Rabbi may have an opinion (I bet you do), but it won’t be a matter of Halacha.

    For millenia (Plato to the end of the middle ages) philosophers tries to come up with grand theories of everything, and produced relatively little value. Modern science is a much more limited enterprise, but a more more successful one.

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken: The theory of evolution offers the possibility of vestigial organs—organs that might once have served a purpose in an earlier life form, but no longer have positive value. ID, while not necessarily contradicting that, at least offers the alternate possibility that a greater wisdom than our own was at work, and our failure to discover an organ’s purpose is not proof that they have none.

    Ori: True. However, the fact that we misidentified vestigial organs does not mean they do not exist. As you pointed out, our knowledge of biology is very limited.

  26. David N. Friedman says:

    Rabbi Menken:”I will admit that I am not impressed with David Friedman’s reference to the US population, as if truth were to be found in a majority vote of the uninformed. But that’s hardly what I have argued.”

    Please, Rabbi Menken. That is hardly what I have argued as well. An appeal to numbers is part of the strategy of those who wish to preserve the Darwin-only monopoly. My argument in reference to the fact that Darwin remains disbelieved by the majority is one refutation against the call to shame us. Note the examples: Darwin denial is an idea on a par with Holocaust denial, or cigarette smoking causes cancer denial, or HIV as a cause of AIDS denial. As a defense against a smear campaign, the Discovery Institute was forced to quietly ask PHD scientists to sign their Darwin-doubting statement as a demonstration that their idea was not kooky. All that really matters is the quality of the evidence, not the numbers–we agree. Only as a means to refute a smear campaign, must one be forced to defend oneself against making an alliance with alleged quacks.

    It is no irony that the same bias that seeks to deny Prof. Gonzalez tenure is used to defend or explain the outrage. “Death by analogy” is a poor strategy but it is truly effective if good people refuse to take a stand against it. Defending Prof. Gonzalez, we are instructed, is like defending a Holocaust denier–or defending the idea of a plan and purpose in the universe is analogous to defending the belief that millions of Jews were not murdered during WWII. Excuse me? The idea of an intelligence that has caused our physical reality is analogous, the argument goes, to the belief that smoking cannot cause lung cancer. Huh? The ploy is not to inform–it is to humiliate. We are not wrong because of certain facts, rather, we are FELT to be on the wrong side because people will come forward and say we are stupid. Do you want to be like a Holocaust denier?? Do you wish to stand alone against the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion.?

    The very reason David Klinghoffer brings this example to us, as Jews, is that it is part of a much larger and frightening potential to terrorize God-believing people, including Jews. Further, the offense is actually aimed at the open-minded and scientifically curious. Actually, everyone suffers when we are told there is only one right answer to questions that remain a mystery.

    I surely hope you agree.

  27. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Junk DNA was supposed to be another of the “useless features” of the human body. I meant to use it as an example in post #25, but eventually didn’t.

    Turns out I was wrong and Rabbi Yaakov Menken’s position is stronger than I thought. Junk DNA appears to be useful.

  28. Michael says:

    Ideally, tenure would not be denied to an individual on the basis of religious or other belief. (I say ideally, because I am not so naive to think that it doesn’t happen. And to the extent that it does, we would rightly be disturbed.) I don’t know the specifics of the Gonzales case, but I can see that a science department has a vested interest in the scientific pursuits of its tenure candidates. True, one could debate whether this interest should extend to pursuits that lie outside the particular departmental discipline. But in a more general sense, a science department might have reason to be concerned with a tenure candidate’s support of what the department views as a misapplication of science.
    Science, with its limitations, is not about the search for truth. It is about observing, gathering data, constructing models that may explain the data, and testing the models by investigating whether they can be used to predict other findings. It does not hold these models to be true other than in the sense that they can be used in a predictive and therefore useful manner. As I wrote before, the theory of evolution is not scientifically useful because it tells us the “truth” of how species evolved. It is useful because the models that come out of it can be used predictively. I would submit, in fact, that to the extent that evolutionary studies are portrayed solely as investigations into the past, the evolutionary model is either being mischaracterized or misused. Accepting evolution as a useful model in biological study has scientific relevance. Belief or nonbelief in evolution as truth does not.
    With the above in consideration, I think it is understandable why intelligent design theory would not be deemed as scientifically relevant. Yes, I understand that the theory espouses the use of design detection algorithms in the investigation of nature. These algorithms are useful in accurately determining patterns in fields such cryptology. But in these fields, the results obtained by using these algorithms can themselves be used in other investigations. The results are integrated into the model and can therefore be used predictively. Even if we want to conclude, based on the same type of analysis, that there was a designer, where does science take it from there? What predictions would we make from the designer model that would not have been predicted otherwise? That the observed patterns might appear elsewhere in nature? Maybe, but the very existence of the patterns themselves might allow us to predict that (irrespective of the issue about whether they indicate design) .
    The point is that science is reiterative. Its utility is the framework in which conclusions can be plugged back into the model to analyze more data. And because of this, science winds up evolving (pardon that pun). If conculsions emerge that don’t fit the model, we must determine whether the conclusions are warranted, or revisit the model and possibly rework it a bit. Rarely would an entire theory be discarded due to the models therein failing to predict the conclusions reached by data analysis. Any self-respecting scientist knows that there is a whole lot that is unknown. If they didn’t think that, why would they be in the field? What would be left to discover?
    As more is learnt, theories change with the models upon which they are built. Evolutionary biologists would not claim that the theory is the same as it was in Darwin’s time, and that does not bother them. “On The Origin of Species” is not their torah (Lehavdi Elef Alafim).
    All that said, I do think that there is a place for the study of nature in demonstrating Intelligent Design. While I don’t think that it is scientifcally useful, it certainly has a place for the ma’amin (the believer) in the laboratory. I do not claim to speak for Dr. Hall, but perhaps this is what he was getting at. An atheist might look at the points that ID proponents make, and say that they are scientifically meaningless and inherently unuseful. A ma’amin looks at them and might allow them to serve as points of inspiration. Intelligent Design might not help with data analysis, but if you go into the laboratory with the Emunah that there is a Creator, and look at nature’s beauty and complexity, you might be able to see that Hashem is hinting at His presence behind the hester panim of nature. The ma’amin knows that this hester panim cannot be pierced by science alone.

  29. David N. Friedman says:

    I am pleased to respond to your comments, Michael. Your conclusion that a believer can see only a hint of God’s presence and that science alone cannot see evidence of a Creator is needlessly modest. Gonzalez comes at the topic strictly as a scientist and if the Creation is real, modern science surely would be able to detect clear evidence of a designing intelligence.

    Perhaps this would not have been clear 100 years ago. Evidence that our universe and life on earth was designed has never been stronger. This is why there is such a strong reaction to mainstream scientists such as Gonzalez. True science does not react so harshly. You speak long and hard about the utility of evolution, while denying a central precept of evolutionary dogma, namely, its alleged truth. Indeed, if the materialists were merely looking for tools, design offers similar tools compare with what is offered by natural selection. What Gonzalez is up against is clearly a differing perception of the truth and those who oppose him have very clear beliefs that stand in conflict with the Gonzalez and Richards book. As you put it, science is always evolving and I quickly agree. So how do you explain such a reaction against the scientists at the Discovery Institute? If Prof. Gonzalez’ tormentors were so confident in their version of the Truth, they would offer a substantive rebuke. Instead, the argument seems to come down to money and the good Prof. is attracting too little money for the university–or so they say.

    This brings up the question of academic freedom that David Klinghoffer raises. The contrast is overwhelming as the very same Provost at ISU recently was arguing in favor of the disgraced Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado. Today’s politics in academia are very instructive. One can be a literal dunce, intentionally controversial, outwardly and actively anti-American (especially in the classroom) and be defended while the next guy with sterling credentials and utter propriety in the classroom (assuming that it is not proper to speak about patterns of design–as if that was not scientific!!) is fired. This kind of topsy-turvy world is the very kind that is dangerous for the Jewish people.

    Michael, you are quick to assert that Darwin’s Origin of Species is not their Torah. I would not be so sure, although the atheism they assert holds no particular book as authoritative. The intolerance on the Left in academia is overwhelming and examples of this kind are numerous. I would say that materialist evolution is like a religion to them, along with a clear distaste for the Torah, and a clear belief in the evil of man as witnessed by their conviction in the Truth of the global warming catastrophes to come.

    As we have come so far scientifically, the high priests that guard much of the academic world are working against scientific progress and open inquiry.

  30. Michael says:

    As I mentioned before, I cannot speak about Professor Gonzales’s situation specifically. You may very well be correct about the agendas behind his denial of tenure. I am certainly aware of the leanings on the campuses of many universities. The situation could be as you say.
    I was writing more generally, and admittedly, perhaps naively. I was using the Gonzales case as a theoretical, to assert that one can dispute the relevance of Intelligent Design theory on purely scientific grounds. You say that Design offers similar tools with that offered by Natural Selection. What are they? Accepting that the world was designed allows us to predict what? In my opinion, predictive models allow a scientific theory to be established. It is not a question of absolute truth.
    You may assert (and correctly, I would presume) that most biologists believe in macroevolution as a historical fact. I would posit that this belief is external to the realm of science. The choice by an individual to believe or not believe in evolution as a historical fact does not ultimately stem from science. It is a scientific issue as to whether a theory provides appropriate predictive models for data analysis. It is a philosophical issue as to whether to ultimately believe that theory as a truth. I may be naive or otherwise mistaken, but I think that if really pressed on the issue, most scientists and even evolutionary biologists would admit that the utility of their research is due to the data that can analyzed today, not the uncovering of what must have happened in the past. To the extent that I am mistaken, I would have a hard time understanding the viewpoints of these scientists. I really don’t see how the realm of science encompasses discovery of the past without some application to predictive models. As noted above, it is for this reason that I (and I presume others) do not see how Intelligent Design theory fits into the framework of science.

  31. David N. Friedman says:

    OK, Michael, you say that you “do not see how ID theory fits into the framework of science” and you have cited “predictive models” several times.

    I have only a couple of moments to respond.

    First, please take a look at the the book at the center of the controversy. The primary thesis of the book is the following prediction: if the universe is designed and we are part of the Designer’s plan and purpose, our place in the universe must be designed for discovery. The various ways in which Earth is ideally placed for discovery of all the laws of nature and nature’s mysteries, with a near perfect view of the cosmos– is a significant theme of the book. Further, the book hammers home a point often under emphasized in the classroom: the laws and constants that govern the universe must be narrowly fine-tuned for the existence of any complex life. These are only two predictions of ID theory and I am being lazy since I am merely dictating from the cover of the book. The fair question remains, OK, if you are going to get real crazy about his outside writings–fine. From the Provost’s point of view–what is scientifically incorrect about his thesis? Gonzalez includes a very long chapter in book called a “skeptical rejoinder” and he is very pleased to take on all critics. However, he was not all prepared to be summarily fired without an argument.

    Today, it is beyond fashion to discredit and bash religion as a supposed impediment to “good” science. Their often-stated theory is that religion spoils the scientific method, which they allege requires an atheistic mindset. This is madness, since this is an obvious lie and has the effect of discouraging religious people from enjoying scientific careers. Of course, a very high percentage of Jews are in medicine and in scientific fields.

    One might argue that the two most important scientists of the last 1000 years were theists: Newton and Einstein. Indeed, nearly every important scientist of the 17th and 18th C were Bible-believing religious fundamentalists. This is the history of science–it was created and advanced by religious men.

    Ha’aretz recently wrote a feature on Sir Isaac Newton: here is a part of it.

    “””Newton was not only a believer in God, but an avid reader and researcher of the Bible. According to the curator of the event: ‘”During the scientific revolution, religion and science were entwined with each other,” Ben-Menachem explains. “Scientists of the 17th century did not fight religion; most scientific giants were religious. Newton was also a very religious man and, as opposed to other learned people of his day, he even believed in a personal God.’

    Accordingly, he would be prohibited from teaching science in many a public school.

    “Newton understood nature as a book that we can decipher, as the Holy Scriptures are read. He considered himself a kind of prophet of the natural sciences. In both these areas he looked for the hidden message to be unraveled.”

    The papers include quite a few interesting things. In one, Newton had evidently written in his own hand the phrase in Hebrew: “Barukh Shem Kavod Malkhuto L’olam Va’ed”, the verse repeated after the daily reecitations of the “SHMA” (among other times). That is correct; Sir Isaac Newton either wrote or had someone write out for him one of the basic pronouncements of Jewish theological belief, in his scientific papers. “”””

    By contrast, Gonzalez is no religious fundamentalist and he does not teach ID in the classroom or preach religion. He is merely an astronomer. He has not waded into controversy, rather, academia has become so intolerant in its own secular faith that it has a very hard time taking any competition and has created a controversy.

  32. Michael says:

    I didn’t look at the book yet, but after reading your comment, I did look at the book’s website and a response to it. Your comment gave me food for thought and I realized something interesting. I will admit that in the way that you present the thesis of the book, there seems to lie potential for a useful and predictive scientific theory. The model is not a designer whom we know nothing about, but a designer who has a purpose for creation and wants sentinent beings to be able to discover the laws and workings of nature. So if this were the case, we would expect that the worlds that harbor sentinent life (or at least the appropriate conditions for its development) would also be worlds in which ideal conditions for scientific discovery exist. It might be somewhat challenging to determine the appropriate metric to assess the “investigation potential” (for lack of a better term) of different worlds, but that could probably be worked out.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but this does not appear to be the direction of the book. Rather, the authors portray Earth as a singularity-that it is not just coincidence that the planet with humankind is also a planet ideally placed for scientific discovery. Of course, we do not yet have the required knowledge of the cosmos to carry out the investigation that I proposed, which would be based on this theory. But at least hypothetically, the theory gives us an avenue of investigation: The greater the correlation between sentinent life and investigation potential, the more robust the theory could become. However, portraying Earth as unique, while certainly inspirational to believers such as myself, does not give much predictive power to the designer model described above. As I mentioned though, I haven’t read the book yet. I might understand this differently once I do.

    To respond to your second point of comment 31: I thought I had made this clear before. Of course there are believers and religious people in science. I count myself among them. I know that Hashem created the universe. This is the perspective I take in a priori to the laboratory. As I wrote at the end of comment 28, the natural patterns that are pointed out by ID serve to strengthen my emunah not to establish it. I may be wrong about this, but I would assume that the religious scientists that you refer to did not use science to establish God as a model. They also took their belief into the laboratory, and did their work with its perspective. To the extent that you are correct, and academia’s secular faith is intolerant of religious belief, we should be up in arms. Notwithstanding what I wrote above about possible predictive value for an ID prediction, I think there still is room to harbor serious doubts about the scientific utility of ID. If (and I know it’s a big if) that is all that is behind the Gonzales case, it doesn’t bespeak intolerance by itself. I would actually be more disturbed about the case of a professor who didn’t receive tenure because of outspoken religious belief demonstrated in their non-scientific writings.

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