Pennock on Pennock

Keith Pennock

In 1897 Mark Twain reportedly sent a cable from London to the Associated Press in New York, saying “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” after a mistaken obituary announcement appeared in a newspaper. The mistaken announcement is not unlike Robert Pennock’s article of March 6th in Science & Theology News which also greatly exaggerates the significance of Dover for the ID movment.
Robert Pennock has made a career of critiquing ID; thus it comes as no surprise that he is now trumpeting the Dover decision. But Ph.D. though he may be, there are so many logical fallacies in his article that it is ripe fodder for Irving Copi’s Introduction to Logic. Robert Pennock may be a third, or perhaps a fourth rate philosopher, but a first rate critique of his kind of reasoning along with Judge Jones’s by a top tier philosopher is available on the very same website by no less than Alvin Plantinga. Rather than repeat Plantinga’s devastating riposte, allow me to critique Robert Pennock and by extension Jones on slightly different grounds.
It is true that Judge Jones said:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy.

However predicting what one’s critics will say goes nowhere towards invalidating their critiques and to pass it off as such is an old canard called “poisoning the well”. Jones was right to worry about being labeled a judicial activist because he behaved in an activist manner. Rather than rule on a simple matter of law, whether the policy failed the Lemon Test, he chose an activist approach and ventured into areas outside of his pay grade to reconcile science and religion. Such issues are best debated among the philosophers of science, not a judge who has had only a few days of scientific testimony for his education on the issue.
A second fallacy is that of an “appeal to illegitimate authority.” Robert Pennock gloats over the supposed claim that “The judge seriously considered the ID claim that it is not religion but real science, but he found the arguments completely unconvincing.” Judge Jones may be versed in law but arbiter of what is and is not science he certainly is not. Besides Jones couldn’t even get basic factual points correct. Let’s take one simple issue and assess if Judge Jones was correct.
In no fewer than six different location, in his decision, Judge Jones stated that ID proponents have published no peer-reviewed science literature supporting their views. Let’s hold off on the critique of how lousy a criterion this is for delimiting science from religion and deal with the factual nature of the claim. In one of those six instances, Judge Jones wrote:

“we find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals” (pg. 89)

In logic this is called a “universal generalization”. But is this generalization really true? Discovery Institute in its Amicus Brief Appendix, noted there are a number of peer-reviewed articles published in mainstream scientific journals which support ID. Here’s the reference for one interesting article:
Stephen C. Meyer, “The origin of biological information and the higher taxonomic categories,” Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 117(2) (August, 2004):213-239.
And since it takes but one to negate a universal generalization Judge Jone’s assertion stands refuted.This is a fairly black-and-white issue, which would be difficult to get wrong and yet Judge Jones did.
A claim is only as good as the citation which backs it up. Robert Pennock cites Jones to back up his claim that ID isn’t science. But Jones was guided by Robert Pennock in his decision. And neither offer a trustworthy account of ID. Never mind how out of their league both Jones and Robert Pennock clearly are in understanding the current nature of the debate over the demarcation criteria of science. I would recommend both Jones & Robert Pennock start with Gary Ferngren’s History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition. If I might be so bold as to suggest a starting place, turn to page 17 and read the essay titled “The Demarcation of Science and Religion” by Stephen C. Meyer to get caught up on that current debate over demarcation criteria. One will find that the falsification delimiter that Jones and Pennock are so fond of would suffer the death of a thousand qualifications because it would rule out many disciplines that we consider science such the historical sciences like archaeology.The additional irony is that several contemporary design arguments nevertheless meet the falsifiability criteria. See here for a list.
A final example of fallacious reasoning is that of an irrelevant conclusion. Robert Pennock along with Barbara Forrest use an argument much like this: “the wedge document” exists demonstrating that many design theorists want to renew Western culture by overthrowing Darwinism; therefore peppered moths do in fact rest on tree trunks (Go here to see why the fact that they don’t spells trouble for Darwinism). Sorry Robert but this mode of argument with all of its motive-mongering simply shows you have no case apart from your tin-foil hat conspiracy theories.
Outside of these fallacies are the simple errors of fact. Far from what Robert Pennock would have you believe ID did not field its “A” game in Dover, not even close. Nor did we want to Two excellent ID scientists provided expert testimony on their areas of expertise, but that’s hardly a full team or a full court press. Several of our top scholars did not participate, and our legal advice was ignored. Robert Pennock would have you believe things that he wasn’t even there for or privy to. Robert Pennock’s wasn’t there when we urged the Dover School Board to drop their deeply flawed policy, but my colleague Seth Cooper was (see his letter explaining how he tried to persuade the Dover School Board to not adopt their policy requiring ID).
Thus Robert Pennock is attempting to rewrite history. He states that “For years, the Discovery Institute had been pushing ID by lobbying elected officials; publishing legal guides, op-eds and videos; and offering legal advice.” This is a lie wrapped in a tissue of truths. We have been promoting our ideas through op-eds and science documentaries (as well as in peer-reviewed and peer-edited books and articles). But as documented to Judge Jones in Discovery’s Amicus Reply Brief in the Dover Case, Discovery has not advocated that ID be pushed into schools. Rather, as our policy has been for years, we think that ID should not be mandated in schools, but that rather teachers should have the academic freedom to teach ID if they choose to do so at their personal discretion. Thus, our public advice for education policy is as follows:

As a matter of public policy, Discovery Institute opposes any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design by school districts or state boards of education. Attempts to mandate teaching about intelligent design only politicize the theory and will hinder fair and open discussion of the merits of the theory among scholars and within the scientific community. Furthermore, most teachers at the present time do not know enough about intelligent design to teach about it accurately and objectively.(Discovery Institute’s Science Education Policy)

We invited the Dover Area School Board to follow this advice by telling them NOT to mandate ID both before and after Dover passed its ID-policy. As stated in a 2002 editorial by Center for Science and Culture director Stephen Meyer, Discovery thinks that education boards considering teaching ID ought to teach about strengths and weaknesses of evolution rather than mandating ID:

I also proposed a compromise involving three main provisions:
(1) First, I urged Ohio school board members not to require students to know the scientific evidence and arguments for the theory of intelligent design.
(2) Instead, I proposed that Ohio teachers teach the scientific controversy about Darwinian evolution. Teachers should teach students about the main scientific arguments for and against Darwinian theory. And Ohio should test students for their understanding of those arguments, not for their assent to a point of view.
(3) Finally, I argued that the state board should permit, but not require, teachers to tell students about the arguments of scientists, like Lehigh University biochemist Michael Behe, who advocate the competing theory of intelligent design.
(Teach the Controversy, by Stephen C. Meyer, (Cincinnati Enquirer March 30, 2002)

That doesn’t sound like a “pushing” approach to me. Robert Pennock is twisting the facts.
Is the game really up?
The genie is out of the bottle and ID is gaining interest worldwide. The supreme irony in all of this will be if the Darwinists succeed in their power-play here in the United State to stifle the academic freedom to teach and discuss intelligent design in the classroom; while students in former Soviet satellites like the Czech Republic and Romania will have free access to the scientific evidence for design. But even if this was true, not all would be lost for as Churchill once observed, were England to fall, the banner of freedom could still be carried forth from the dominions. It would be ironic indeed if former Soviet satellites had to give us a lesson in intellectual freedom.