Ask the Professor: William Stuntz

Is the case for intelligent design designed intelligently?

No, says a leading scholar, and here's why

Several school boards have recently mandated that science curricula include the teaching of intelligent design--the theory that all advanced life forms are so complex that they must have been designed by an intelligent force. In December 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design is not science and that teaching it in public school science classrooms would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. But other cases are expected. The Bulletin asked Professor William Stuntz, an evangelical Christian who has written widely about law and religion: Is this a debate that proponents of intelligent design can win?

Phil Farnsworth

William Stuntz is an evangelical Christian who has written widely about law and religion.

No, because the proponents are too invested in the bottom line. You don't win scientific debates by arguing like lawyers; you win them by arguing like scientists. But my friends in the evangelical Christian community tend to argue like lawyers: They start with the bottom line and look for reasons to support it, just as a lawyer starts with the conclusion that most benefits her client and looks for arguments to support that conclusion. The only way to win a scientific debate is to play by the scientists' rules--start with premises and reason forward to conclusions. And the only way to do that credibly is to make clear at the outset that you're not committed to any conclusion, that you haven't already embraced a bottom line. Religious believers have already failed that test, which is why this debate will end up looking to most people like the debate over evolution in the 1920s. Nonbelievers think that believers are strategic, that we will embrace any argument that works to our benefit. To a large degree, they're right. Unless and until that changes, religious believers won't have any credibility with the secular academic world. We don't deserve to have credibility if we're not honestly engaged in truth-seeking.

And it isn't a defense to say that the other side isn't playing by those rules. Darwinism is a scientific theory, but it has also come to embody a set of ideological commitments, and those commitments deserve to be challenged. All true. But the price of admission to this debate, the hurdle any challenger must overcome in order to be taken seriously, is an absolute, unqualified commitment to truth-seeking. Once you say you're certain how the question comes out, you've given away the argument. Almost everyone on the intelligent design side of this debate has done just that.

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