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Sunday, November 20, 2005 

U of Iowa faculty petition against ID released

...and has spawned some press coverage, here in the Ames Tribune and
in the Cedar Rapids Gazette, making us the first state to have faculty from all Regent universities speak out against intelligent design. I'll briefly address some of the comments.

In the first article, U of I physics professor (and signer of the DI's "Scientific dissent from Darwinism" petition) Fred Skiff elaborates one giant strawman:
"It's part of science to consider what blinders you might be wearing," Skiff said. "Materialists put conditions on science that things can only exist if they satisfy materialism. I think that is a mistake."

He said scientists need to be open to the possibility of God and the idea that the world could be "bigger than their imagination."

"They say that can't be true because it doesn't fit into their conception of the world," he said. "That's not science' that's metaphysics. It's not looking at the world around you. It's closing your eyes and saying that 'Nothing can exist except for things that can fit into my theory.'"

Skiff is using a typical Discovery Institute tactic here, equating accepting evolution with an atheistsic worldview. Too bad it's just wrong. Many scientists are, indeed, "open to the possibility of God." Many even consider themselves evangelic Christians. (Check out the "clergy letter project", where over 9,000 Christian clergy have signed seeking to "preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge.") But they realize God just ain't something you can investigate scientifically. Additionally, even most scientists who are atheists would admit that there may be more out there--but that's not a question of science, it's a question of personal philosophy. Skiff and others try to conflate the two, despite the fact that science is a field where two people can have polar opposite personal philosophies, and yet still reach the same scientific conclusion using a materialistic *methodological* philosophy. This happens every day, and I'd assume that Skiff's own research also investigates only naturalistic phenomena.
Skiff said he believed the statement is intimidating to he and his colleagues who are open to intelligent design because it institutes the philosophy of materialism as the definition of science.
"They are saying that anyone who doesn't have our point of view isn't a legitimate scientist," he said. "That's coming on pretty strong."
That's just baloney. I don't know Dr. Skiff, and have only seen him once (and was thoroughly unimpressed, described here). He may very well be an excellent physicist, and I don't doubt for a minute he's a "legitimate scientist." I just think he's letting his religious views cloud his judgement in this matter. You can read the petitions for yourself: U of Iowa's; Iowa State's; and U of Northern Iowa's. Nowhere does it say that people who support ID aren't "legitimate scientists." The fact that he (and so many other) ID supporters feel that way is simply their own paranoia.

Speaking of which, from the Gazette article:
He [Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute] criticized the ISU statement signed by professors opposing intelligent design as a slap at Gonzalez’ academic freedom.

‘‘This is a wonderful development,’’ he said. ‘‘It shows that people opposed to intelligent design are no longer acting like McCarthyites.’’
Again, you can read the ISU statement for yourself. Nowhere is Gonzalez targeted, and nowhere does anyone say Gonzalez can't research ID (not that he is, anyway). It simply says that it ain't science.

Also in the Gazette article:
Gonzalez said Avalos and a few other intelligent design critics have created a hostile environment for him at ISU by circulating the statement and speaking out in the media. But Gonzalez said he thinks many ISU faculty silently support teaching intelligent design as science.

‘‘It would be nice if someone took a poll to find out what the real opinions are,’’ he said.

Gonzalez said intelligent design is still too controversial to teach in high school, except as part of what he regards as the controversy over evolution. He also wouldn’t mandate that anyone teach it either. Partly, he said, because few teachers really understand it.

I find the irony here delicious. He acknowledges that few teachers understand ID. I'd wager this applies to most of the general public as well--they know ID as simply the "goddidit" argument, without a deeper understanding of exactly what ID says. Yet, Gonzalez thinks that many of these same people would "silently support" teaching ID. Does he think the faculty in general are more educated on the issue than secondary school teachers? I doubt it. One professor at ISU whose field is veterinary medicine, when the statement reached his/her department, even remarked that ID was something "for physicists to grapple with." !! They don't realize this is something ID advocates are trying to get into *every* department, by undermining the very nature of science.
Officials at the Iowa Department of Education know of no school districts in the state teaching about intelligent design, department spokeswoman Kathi Slaughter said.
In my opinion, this is the way it should be. Though I think the whole "debate" is largely a waste of time and effort (since there *is* no real "challenge to evolution,") at least here in Iowa it's largely being carried out at the university level, rather than in our secondary schools. Maybe we'll succeed at other states' expense, making Iowa a state of science. Once again, if you're in Iowa and are interested in getting involved, check out our website, or email us at iowascience AT gmail DOT com.

Edited to add: bummer, as noted in the comments, Missouri beat us to the punch.

Edited again to add: I see Dembski is claiming " ID proponents were bypassed" when we circulated this. Not true at all--I don't even know who on the faculty is an "ID proponent" besides the already-mentioned Fred Skiff (and I can't say how it was circulated within the physics department, if it went there at all). It was mostly passed along through word-of-mouth, and generally sent to entire departments or colleges at a time. The idea that we were bypassing certain people on a faculty this large is a joke.


About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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