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Dover Generates Intellectual Ferment

The Kitzmiller vs. Dover trial has generated much talk on the internet about Darwinism and the theory of intelligent design, some of it trenchant, much of it stimulating. The American Scientific Affiliation is discussing it here.

One ASA member, Ted Davis, a friendly critic of intelligent design interested in more open debate on the question of origins, provides a favorable review of evolutionist Kenneth Miller’s expert testimony, describing it as “superb testimony … on all counts.” He also provides intriguing if less flattering analysis of Friday’s expert testimony here:

I went to court yesterday and heard the entire testimony (all done in one afternoon) of Jack Haught, the Georgetown theologian who appeared as a witness for the plaintiffs. This had three important aspects, as follows.

(1) In the direct (ie, pro-plaintiff) portion of his testimony, Jack played the “Langdon Gilkey” role. That is, he pretty much did what the late Prof Gilkey did in the Arkansas creation trial some 20 years ago: he used the strong “contrast” card from his deck, pointing out differences between theology and science in the neo-orthodox style that was Gilkey’s trademark. (Jack of course is not really neo-orthodox, but he knows the position and pushed it hard.) In the course of this part, he also painted ID as pretty
much being creationism–not exactly, but close enough for the purposes of the trial.

(2) In the first part of the cross-examination, however, two things happened that proved highly interesting. First, defense attorney Richard Thompson read parts of one of Haught’s books, in which Haught clearly dissented from Robert Pennock and Barbara Forrest’s view that ID is just another form of creationism. (Pennock testified earlier this week, though I missed that day, and Forrest is scheduled to testify for the plaintiffs next week.) Thompson is obviously, and fairly and appropriately in my view, starting to drive a “wedge” (if I may call it that) between these 3 plaintiff witnesses on this crucial point of the trial. ID is not garden variety creationism, as Pennock andForrest want people to think, and Haught was right in what he wrote about that. In response to Mr Thompson’s questions, he kept saying that “for the purposes of this trial” he was pretty much in agreement with Pennock and Forrest. I was not convinced.

Mr Thompson also asked Haught about the Strong Anthropic Principle (which, amusingly, Thompson was pronouncing “anthropotropic” or something like that until Jack corrected him). Doesn’t this indicate that scientists themselves are talking about design, Thompson asked–and yes, it does indicate this, IMO, so I found this line of inquiry most interesting. Jack quickly pointed out that, when scientists are doing this, they are not doing science, that is they are not behaving qua scientists. Thus the a priori neo-orthodox distinction was defended on this point.

At some point the questioning got into the multiverse hypothesis, and my sense was (I’d want to review the transcript to have more confidence in my comments here) that Jack thinks that is more genuinely “scientific” b/c it’s naturalistic, even though as he admitted it is just “speculation.” It would be very interesting indeed, if someone like Stan Jaki were brought in to talk in more detail about this type of naturalistic speculation, vis-a-vis what he called “rumors of transcendence” in cosmology a couple of decades back, when some cosmologists were trying to argue that the universe sprang from “nothing”, er, from a grand wave function of some sort. Anything to get past transcendence, it seems, for some folks.

(3) Then it got really, really interesting. Mr thompson asked Jack whether he is a Roman Catholic theologian, and Jack affirmed that he is. Did he have the official whatever-it-is-called-sort-of-license to be a Catholic theologian? No, Jack said, the local authority responsible for that is pretty understanding (my words to give my impression of what he said, I don’t have notes with his words) about this. Mr Thompson then produced a copy of the Catholic catechism, and asked Jack point blank about whether or not he believes in the virgin birth, the resurrection, and an historical Adam and Eve. What is your position on these points, he wanted to know.

Jack then did the Bultmann thing, relative to the virgin birth and the resurrection–no, he stated, if there were a videocamera in the room when Jesus appeared to the disciples, that camera would not have recorded anything, since it takes faith to see the resurrected Jesus (and presumably, the camera would have lacked faith). From private conversation with Jack a few years ago, I was pretty sure this is what he would say–Jack questioned my conviction that the bodily resurrection is vital to Christian belief–but I have never talked about this conversation publicly b/c I did not think it was appropriate to do so. Now however it is fair to mention it.
Jack also denied on the stand that he is a “process theologian,” I can’t fathom just why he did so. He’s seen as a process theologian by everyone I know, and I still consider him a process theologian. Perhaps I’ll get a chance at some point to ask him to clarify his own position, relative to process theology. But you could’ve fooled me, and I don’t think I’m easily fooled on this type of thing. Perhaps he didn’t want to be pigeonholed for the purposes of further questioning, in which case I would understand his answer.

Finally, I’ll add some commentary about “Scopes One” vs what people are calling “Scopes Three,” with Arkansas apparently being “Scopes Two.” In some important ways this ain’t “Scopes Three.” For example, with all due respect to the attorneys, they aren’t the public figures that Darrow and Bryan were–and no one anywhere near Harrisburg is the trial lawyer Darrow was. Nor is anyone bringing the public atheist posture that Darrow brought to Dayton, and there isn’t anyone outside with a chimpanzee and there aren’t large crowds trying to get in (I had no problem getting one of 40 seats for the general public either day). In many ways, “Scopes Three” is just another one of the many court cases in recent years about religion, public education, and the First Amendment.

And, the first scientist to testify, Ken Miller, is probably quite a bit more conservative theologically (I know many people think he’s a flaming liberal, but I don’t think he’s nearly as liberal as Haught) than the scientists who lined up to testify in Dayton (only one of them, Maynard Metcalf of Johns Hopkins, was actually allowed to testify before the jury, though the others were allowed to have their testimony entered into the court record). Kirtley Mather, e.g., did not have a clear belief in an afterlife and did not believe that God can interact at all with nature (those two beliefs are self-consistent, incidentally, as I will be discussing in my book about the religious beliefs of early 20th century scientists). But Haught is as liberal as anyone around Dayton, as far as I can tell.

The overall science/religion landscape is far more diverse today than it was in the 1920s (when there was no readily visible group of people who accept both evolution *and* the virgin birth & resurrection), but you won’t know that from Haught’s testimony–it was pretty much the old modernism in contemporary form, save for the injection of a strong dose of neo-orthodoxy….

Jonathan Witt

Executive Editor, Discovery Institute Press and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Jonathan Witt, PhD, is Executive Editor of Discovery Institute Press and a senior fellow and senior project manager with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. His latest book is Heretic: One Scientist’s Journey from Darwin to Design (DI Press, 2018) written with Finnish bioengineer Matti Leisola. Witt has also authored co-authored Intelligent Design Uncensored, A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature, and The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom That Tolkien Got, and the West Forgot. Witt is the lead writer and associate producer for Poverty, Inc., winner of the $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award and recipient of over 50 international film festival honors.



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