Saturday, May 20, 2006


Lawrence M. Krauss on 'the ID debate'

Theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss has an article in the April/May edition of Free Inquiry (magazine of entitled: 'Science vs/ Religion in the ID Dabate'. He begins by talking about the Taliban blowing up a statue of the Buddha in Afganistan in 2001 on religious grounds, and describes this act as 'a clear example of religion attacking science - in this case, archaeology...' He also asserts that the Taliban's actions were motivated by 'fear'. However, describing the Taliban's actions as an attack on science, rather than as an attack on a statue, or an attack on one religious practice (making a statue) by another, seems to me to be tendentious. Is every disaffected Western youth who has thrown a brick through the window of a McDonald's to be described as attacking science - in this case the science of architecture, or of plate-glass manufacture?! Surely they would described their actions as attacking capitalism, or corporatism? My point is not that I agree with the actions of the Taliban or of the anti-capitalism protester who vandalize things that represent, in their minds, institutions and/or practices that are evil. Rather, my point is that for Krauss to describe the actions of the Taliban referenced as an attack on science is to implausibly read his own agenda onto events by ignoring the intention of the actors involved.

Krauss' agenda comes into the picture in his second paragraph, where he tells us that 'Similar collisions between science and religion, based on fear, have taken place in the United States.' He references former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay 'who has, amaizingly, a degree in biology' and who 'once argued that the Columbine school shootings happened "because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of the primordial mud."' Well, at the risk of joining what Krauss clearly consideres bad company, I suspect that there might be something in Mr DeLay's analysis. However, it should surely be pointed out that Mr DeLay's comment is an attack on a naturalistic philosophical interpretation of evolutionary theory rather than an attack on science. The crucial words in Mr DeLay's comments are 'nothing but'. To attack the scientific theory of evolution Mr DeLay would have had to leave out the words 'nothing but'.

Krauss complains that public policy regarding Intelligent Design (getting its first mention in paragraph three, so that it has some rhetorical context, e.g. 'religion', 'fear', 'collisions between science and religion based on fear') has been defined by people like President George W. Bush who declared 'Both sides ought to be properly taught so people can understand what the debate is about.' Since ID theorists put forward their theory as a scientific theory with no stake in any religious texts, no religious assumptions and no religious conclusions (although many argue for religious implications) - it would seem that the President's words have a certain wisdom to them. Krauss, however, is determined to stick with the 'science vs. religion' story, complaining that Bush's statement: 'represents a clear misunderstanding, because it assumes that there are two "sides" and that there is a debate.' May I call attention to: 1) the existence of Krauss' article, which certainly looks like someone arguing against what they think ID theory is arguing for 2) the title of Krauss' article, which closes with the phrase 'the ID Debate'.

But perhaps Krauss has let rhetoric run away with him. Perhaps he means that the ID side of the debate is very small compared to the opposition (which is true enough). Perhaps he means that the ID side of the debate is not a scientific side, and hence, in this sense, there is no other (scientific) side to the ID debate. Of course, the other side of the debate reckons that it is scientific. There is, then, clearly a debate (with two sides): about whether or not ID is science.

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