Thursday, December 22, 2005

Santorum's Response to Dover is Reassuring (and I think honest)

I have to give Pa. Senator Rick Santorum a lot of credit. According to an article in today's Philadelphia Inquirer, when he read through the testimony of the Kitzmiller "Intelligent Design" case and recognized the degree to which the proponents were religiously motivated, he no longer said he was in support of the case.

That reinforces the feeling I got from reading his book, "It Takes a Family" that he is sincere in his conservative political beliefs in general and not a religious extremist willing to lie to promote a cause as some of the folks at the Discovery Institute truly appear to be. From reading the testimony and responses to the trial, I've gotten the sense that there are a variety of different strands among those folks, from reasonably honest scholars trying to promote what they think will someday become a real scientific movement (I suspect that Behe and possibly Dembski fall into that category), to others with almost no scholarly integrity who simply want to wage culture war on secular philosophies like scientific naturalism above all else.

It is good to see honest conservatives who respect the different traditions, both religious and secular, differing with the extremist groups and coming closer to exposing them for the divisive, culture-war-obsessed parochial thinkers that they are. (That's just my interpretation of course).

The Inquirer article makes a very big deal out of the significance of ID as a re-election issue for Santorum, how his opponents are quoting him to show how he has "flip-flopped" on the issue.

Right now, from the quotes, I don't see it. I see quotes being taken out of context. There is a consistent pattern in all of them that Santorum, like many conservatives believes that:

1. ID is a theory that is compatible with the notion of a Creator but is also at least potentially and legitimately scientific

2. If ID is legitimate science, it shouldn't be legislated into curricula because of religious and political motivations but accepted by scientists themselves for evidential reasons within the life sciences

3. Scientists and educators have been loathe to accept alternatives to orthodox neo-Darwinism.

Now, I disagree with (1) to some extent, however I agree it is possible in principle, I think that (2) is absolutely dead on right, and that (3) is regrettably true to some degree.

I think the only place where Santorum actually flip-flopped on this issue is that he changed his mind that (2) was a neccessary evil in order to push past the problems caused by (3). Conservatism within science, I think even most conservatives would agree in principle, is best met by the promotion of new research from within science rather than legislation from without. ID has consistently been misrepresented as being a movement within science, when it most certainly is not. The testimony made that fact so well known to some of us much more obvious to others, and Santorum is one of the people reacting to that evidence.

I admire that wisdom even though I still can't quite see how ID or any other form of dualism could somehow morph into a form compatible with scientific naturalism and testability. The underlying philosophy of science is really a minor point compared to the kinds of deception that have been perpetrated by extremists in the name of culture war.

If Santorum is sincere, and I think he is at this point, he was as misled as most people as to what the ID case was about from the Discovery Institute perspective. They are not interested in teaching controversy over evolution, which is already done in science when it is taught properly, but in undermining legitimate scientific theories and replacing them with religiously rooted alternatives that aren't seen as "materialistic" and therefore less compatible with orthodox religious tradition.

Maybe I'm naive, but I'd like to think Santorum honestly didn't realize who he was in bed with, metaphorically speaking, when he voiced his support of the ID movement because he honestly but mistakenly believed the culture war propaganda that science was taken over by some sort of anti-Christian liberal elite atheist conspiracy and was no longer basing its theories on the richness of empirical data and full scientific creativity. Those of us who have a real interest in biology know how vital and dynamic it really is, and how scientifically productive, and it's good that the message is starting to get out in drips and drabs among conservatives.

Like the verdict of the court trial, the Santorum article today was good news to most of us that wisdom and common sense still sometimes prevail over extremism and political partisanship.

kind regards,


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