ID Creationism in schools – the “Rawlsian” argument

Over on The Panda’s Thumb,  Steve Reuland writes:

Good grief, since when have Dembski or any of his fanbois given a crap what John Rawls thinks? They hate liberalism with a passion. Trying to force a “comprehensive doctrine” on the citizenry is precisely what they’re all about.

Sadly, perhaps, I have been so much immersed in this ID business that I actually can say: since 1998.

Steve’s post comes as a comment to a blog entry on Dembski’s treatment of a book by George Levine. Dembski wrote that Levine’s book

is silly and superficial, and would not be worth notice except that it serves as Exhibit A for the fact that Darwinism has become a religion, or at least, a “comprehensive doctrine” in the sense of Rawls (John, not Lou), and hence NOT something that a liberal democracy ought to impose on its citizens by force, as is happening now.

Levine’s book is featured at the website of the Princeton University Press, where you can see the first chapter (HTML or PDF) and the endorsements, and judge for yourself if it looks like a “silly and superficial” book.

As for Steve’s question, the ID folk have been using their “Rawlsian” argument since it was propounded in a paper by Notre Dame Philosophy Professor Alvin Plantinga delivered at a regional conference in 1998. The paper has been published as a book chapter in 2001, and critiqued by Pennock in the next chapter of that book:

Plantinga, Alvin. “Creation and Evolution: A Modest Proposal.” In Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, edited by Robert T. Pennock, 779-91. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001.

Pennock, Robert T. “Reply to Plantinga’s “Modest Proposal”.” In Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives, edited by Robert T. Pennock, 793-97. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001.

Incidentally, this is the sort of thing the ID folk cite as refuting the point (by Judge Jones in Kitzmiller, among others) that Intelligent Design Theory has not published peer-reviewed scientific work with respectable academic publishers. MIT Press is obviously a respectable academic press; but however well Plantinga’s paper qualifies as a philosophic argument, it is not the publication of results from a natural science research program. If they are not provided venues like this in which to make their arguments, the ID folks use their exclusion as evidence that a valid theory is being suppressed; if they are included in the forum, their mere inclusion is claimed as evidence that their work is taken seriously and should be recognized as valid “science.”

Back to the point raised by Steve Reuland: Steve is right that Dembski & Co. do not embrace the liberal thought of folks like Rawls. When an argument like this is promulgated, it is then taken up by Dembski, Luskin, Beckwith, and others as an argument that’s supposed to show that liberalism has no way to exclude teaching ID in the public schools without contradicting its own most basic core principles. Beckwith seems particularly pleased with his articulation of what he takes to be his killer argument (for example) in chapter 3 of Law, Darwinism, and Public Education, especially in the chapter’s Part C, titled “The Case for the Illiberality of Teaching Naturalistic Evolution in Public Schools.”

So Reuland is correct to say that these people are not liberals, and can’t be heard to use Rawls’ theory as their own; but what they’re trying to argue is that liberals don’t have any possible position from which to justify not teaching ID, since they undermine their own principles, and the logical basis for any liberal argument, if ID is not included.

This is just a more sophisticated version of the point they’re making when they say the ACLU has “switched sides” on this issue since Scopes v. Tennessee, since in Scopes they were defending inclusion of the disputed teaching (evolution), and in Kitzmiller they opposed inclusion of the disputed teaching (ID).

Clever, I suppose; but not likely to confuse anyone who’s not just looking for rhetorical cover for a position they’re committed to for other reasons.

One Comment

  1. truth machine
    Posted October 31, 2006 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    I suppose it’s “clever” to ignore the facts, such as that Scopes was a matter of being forced *not* to teach something (despite it being scientific), while Kitzmiller was a matter of being forced *to* teach something (despite it being unscientific).


One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] One point of interests is the White Paper’s presentation of a Rawlsian argument against teaching Intelligent Design in public schools, which most people would find more congenial to Rawls than the “Rawlsian” argument for including ID, which has been discussed in an earlier post on this blog. [...]

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