Ernie F. enters the blogosphere

Unfortunately, our governor’s views about intelligent design have not endeared him to writers of science blogs. Just what Kentucky needs — negative publicity that reinforces the national impression of Kentuckians as backwoods rubes.

The Kentucky Academy of Science in December issued a press release to explain its opposition to teaching intelligent design in the public schools. Fletcher responded with a letter supporting ID and explaining why it should be taught. The text of both documents are at The Panda’s Thumb.

Careful readers may find Fletcher’s letter repeats the same arguments about ID that were in his State of the State address in January. In fact, some are verbatim repetitions of that address. I’m not sure what to conclude about the similarities, other than Ernie is just recycling them. Politicians don’t waste words, you know.

Right after the address, I drew up a rebuttal to the pro-ID arguments, and submitted them to the LEO. They did nothing with them, so here they are. Ah, the power of self-publication …
OK, class. For today’s lesson in logic, we are going to analyze this segment of Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s State of the Commonwealth address on Jan 9. How many fallacies in the argument can you find?

“As I close, let me recognize Kentucky’s veterans. You have served to protect our liberty and the freedom that spurs our quality of life in this nation. Please know that this administration is committed to supporting you.

And where does this freedom come from that many have died to protect?
Our founding fathers recognized that we were endowed with this right by our creator.

So I ask, what is wrong with teaching “intelligent design” in our schools. Under KERA, our school districts have that freedom and I encourage them to do so.
This is not a question about faith or religion. It’s about self-evident truth.”

So what are we to make of this series of non sequiturs masquerading as a syllogism? Let’s begin by restating the points leading up to the conclusion.

  • Statement 1: Veterans have fought to preserve our liberty and freedom.
  • Statement 2: The right to these freedoms proceeds from our creator. (An allusion to the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”)
  • Statement 3: KERA (the Kentucky Education Reform Act) gives schools the freedom to teach “intelligent design.”
  • Statement 4: Intelligent design has nothing to do with faith or religion.
  • Statement 5: Intelligent design is a self-evident truth.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the schools should teach intelligent design.

Let’s examine these statements, then see if the conclusion proceeds logically from them.

Statement 1 is the standard justification given by our nation’s leaders for sending our citizens to war, and for those citizens’ sacrifices, including death, in the course of that duty. While the majority of the populace accepts this proposition as valid, certain segments of our society, including Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites, do not share in the belief that war is necessary to preserve our freedoms. In addition, there is no concrete evidence that fighting in wars preserves our Constitutional rights. In fact, our participation in wars has historically resulted in fewer liberties, among them, covert government surveillance of citizens, forced incarceration of ethnic minorities, and censorship of media and private correspondence. Thus, this first statement is a debatable proposition.

Statement 2: For those who believe in a creator, this statement is somewhat unassailable, though interpretation of exactly what freedoms are included is open to debate. For example, some Christians believe that a woman should have the right to an abortion, while others do not. For those who are atheists, or at least agnostics, this statement holds no water. Thus, the second proposition is also debatable.

Statement 3: The text of KERA says nothing specifically about intelligent design, since that term was not in vogue when KERA was drafted. KERA also cannot give schools the freedom to teach subjects that superior legal institutions, such as the state Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States, judge as illegal. A Pennsylvania judge recently struck down as unconstitutional a local school board’s attempt to authorize teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in the classroom. The Kansas state school board removed a similar provision in the state curriculum. Therefore, this statement is the weakest part of the argument yet. Perhaps Gov. Fletcher has not been paying close attention to the news lately.

Statement 4: Proponents of intelligent design insist that the complexity of the universe and of living organisms requires a designer, and that mere chance alone could not be responsible for the current world in which we live. Using circular reasoning, they argue that the complexity of the universe is proof that such a designer exists. ID proponents hold their theory up as scientific, while ignoring the common requirement that there must be evidence supporting scientific conclusions. Without independent evidence of a designer, the assumption that a designer exists is therefore unscientific and unsupportable. The basis for assuming there is such a designer must therefore be a matter of faith, which does not demand evidence. That most advocates of ID are themselves very religious would also weaken the contention that ID does not derive from either faith or religion.

Statement 5: Many scientists, and some judges of law, do not accept ID as self-evident, for the reasons stated above. Nor would many scientists accept evolution as self-evident. Scientific theories are never self-evident, since they depend on external evidence for their support. ID proponents who hold that ID is a scientific theory would therefore be advised not to adopt Gov. Fletcher’s view that ID is self-evident.

Given the weakness of his propositions and the fallacy of his argument, Gov. Fletcher cannot expect any clear-thinking citizen to accept that intelligent design should be taught in the public schools. If he has other reasons for advocating the teaching of ID, Fletcher certainly did not make them obvious during his address. Perhaps they are faith-based, or politically motivated reasons. Fletcher is a medical doctor, part of a group of professionals who view themselves as being scientific in outlook and approach. One wonders if Dr. Fletcher has applied his keen scientific mind to its fullest in considering the validity of ID and the advisability of teaching it in the schools.
Fletcher repeats these same arguments in his letter to the KAS. I suspect the KAS had the same reactions as I had to his address.

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