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Does LA County Natural History Museum Scientist Kirk Fitzhugh Oppose “Freedom of Thought” for Intelligent Design?

Casey Luskin

In my prior post, I explained that Kirk Fitzhugh, a scientist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), wrongly claims that intelligent design (ID) is not testable. Fitzhugh’s error that ID is “immune to testing” is important. While he should have the academic freedom to believe and contend that ID is “immune to testing” and not scientific, he uses his claim that ID is not testable to justify suppressing ID. He anticipates this deficiency in his position, and thus writes:

First, there’s the claim that science precludes expression of thought. In the context of ID, such a claim of overt suppression is inaccurate. Science is a process of acquiring ever-increasing causal understanding, and such a process has as its hallmark the continual critical evaluation of the theories and hypotheses we claim lead to such understanding. It cannot be overemphasized that ID is a theory that is not amenable to being tested. Science is not able to evaluate the supernatural. A theory that is immune to testing provides individuals with the ability to arbitrarily explain anything with impunity. This is not a position any field of science would condone. So, freedom of thought regarding ID is not being suppressed in science. ID is simply a theory that lies outside the realm of all the sciences, and as such is not worthy of serious consideration as a vehicle for acquiring rational understanding. (emphasis added)

Intolerant people are usually blind to their own intolerance, and smart intolerant people are often quite adept at rationalizing intolerance. Kirk Fitzhugh is no exception to these rules. Thus, even as Fitzhugh claims there is no “overt suppression” of ID, or that “freedom of thought regarding ID is not being suppressed,” he argues that ID naturally deserves to be suppressed — by “any field of science” and rejected by “all of the sciences” — because it “is not worthy of serious consideration as a vehicle for acquiring rational understanding.” In light of such grandiose and broadbrush swipes at anyone who would sympathize with ID, it sure doesn’t sound like Fitzhugh feels there should be any academic freedom left for those scientists who do find ID to be a potentially fruitful or compelling scientific theory.

Fitzhugh is perfectly entitled to disagree with ID, to argue it’s not testable, and to argue it is not “a vehicle for acquiring rational understanding.” But he’s not entitled to limit freedom of thought for scientists who disagree with him and do feel ID ought to be pursued as a science. But this is exactly what happened when his team at the NHMLAC drafted a letter to the California Science Center which urged them to cancel an event because it was pro-ID.

Moreover, note that Fitzhugh is not just disagreeing with ID. He’s saying that science must uniformly reject ID, claiming: “This is not a position that any field of science would condone.” (emphasis added) So how should the scientific community respond to scientists who feel that ID should be pursued as a field? Fitzhugh’s answer is clear. He feels they should not be allowed to pursue such research since ID purportedly “is not worthy of serious consideration as a vehicle for acquiring rational understanding.”

Exposing Kirk Fitzhugh’s Double-Standards and Guilt by Association Arguments
Another reason Fitzhugh argues that ID is not science is his claim that “ID is regularly associated with a religious perspective.” He selective quotes William Dembski’s Christian interpretation of ID in the book Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology. Apparently, though he cites from it, Fitzhugh must not have actually read the book, or he would have learned, as seen in the passage I quoted in a prior post, that the theory of ID doesn’t appeal to the supernatural and limits its claims to what can be learned by the scientific method.

“[I]ntelligent design nowhere attempts to identify the intelligent cause responsible for the design in nature, nor does it prescribe in advance the sequence of events by which this intelligent cause had to act. . . . Intelligent design is modest in what it attributes to the designing intelligence responsible for the specified complexity in nature. For instance, design theorists recognize that the nature, moral character and purposes of this intelligence lie beyond the remit of science. As Dean Kenyon and Percival Davis remark in their text on intelligent design: ‘Science cannot answer this question; it must leave it to religion and philosophy.'” (William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design: The Bridge Between Science and Theology, pp. 247-248 (InterVarsity Press, 1999).)

Fitzhugh’s criticism is fundamentally an argument for guilt by association (“ID is regularly associated with…”). But logically, the mere fact that many ID proponents are religious does not mean that empirical arguments for design are unscientific. The personal beliefs of ID proponents about religion are irrelevant to whether ID is science.

What is more, numerous leading evolutionists have “associated” evolution with atheism — an association Fitzhugh admits is unscientific in an online article titled, Science and Religion: Compatible or Incompatible?. There, Fitzhugh even castigates Dawkins for suggesting that science can disprove the existence of God, arguing instead that “atheism, as well as theism, are equally irrational propositions.”

What Fitzhugh refuses to confront is the fact that arguments appealing to “association” cut both ways. If the world’s most famous evolutionary scientist, Richard Dawkins, argues that evolution implies atheism, then clearly evolution has some kind of “association” with atheism. By Fitzhugh’s logic, that “association” should make evolution unscientific. But obviously he doesn’t claim evolution is unscientific. This is good, because logically speaking Dawkins’ personal atheism should not disqualify evolution from being science. But unfortunately Fitzhugh applies a double-standard for he uses the same logic to claim ID is unscientific.

In fact, evolution is a scientific theory, and the anti-religious beliefs of Dawkins and many other leading evolutionists make no difference in that respect. The personal religious (or atheistic or anti-religious) beliefs, motives, or associations of proponents of a theory do not make that theory unscientific. They are irrelevant to both the evaluation of the epistemological status of a theory, and the validity of a theory. Fitzhugh gladly applies this logic to exonerate evolution. But in a classic example of evolutionist double-standards, he refuses to apply it to ID. Instead, he argues ID is not science because it is “associated with a religious perspective.”


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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