Emotions and Intentional Objects

3. Emotions and Intentional Objects

What does a mood, such as free-floating depression or euphoria, have in common with an episode of indignation whose reasons can be precisely articulated? The first seems to have as its object nothing and everything, and often admits of no particular justification; the second has a long story to tell, typically involving other people and what they have done or said. Not only these people, but the relevant facts about the situations involved, as well as some of the special facts about those situations, aspects of those facts, the causal role played by these aspects, and even the typical aims of the actions motivated by the emotions can all in some context or other be labeled objects of emotion. The wide range of possible objects is suggested by the many different ways we fill in ascriptions of emotions. If someone is indignant, then there is some object o or proposition p such that the person is indignant at or with o, about p or that p, because of p, or in virtue of p. This variety has led to a good deal of confusion. A long-standing debate, for example, concerns the extent to which the objects of emotions are to be identified with their causes. This identification seems plausible; yet it is easy to construct examples in which being the cause of an emotion is intuitively neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for its being its object: if A gets annoyed at B for some entirely trivial matter, drunkenness may have caused A’s annoyance, yet it is in no sense its object. Its object may be some innocent remark of B’s, which occasioned the annoyance but which it would be misleading to regard as its cause. In fact the object of the annoyance may be a certain insulting quality in B’s remark which is, as a matter of fact, entirely imaginary and therefore could not possibly be its true cause.

The right way to deal with these complexities is to embrace them. We need a taxonomy of the different sorts of possible emotional objects. We might then distinguish different types of emotions, not on the basis of their qualitative feel, but — at least in part — according to the different complex structures of their object relations. Many emotions, such as love, necessarily involve a target, or actual particular at which they are directed. Others, such as sadness, do not. On the other hand, although a number of aspects of the loved one may motivate attentional focus, efforts to find a propositional object for love have been unconvincing. (Kraut 1986, Rorty 1988). Sadness may or may not focus on a propositional object; regret, by contrast, cannot be described without specifying such an object. Depression or elation can lack all three kinds of object. Objectless emotions share many properties with other emotions, especially in their physiological and motivational aspects, but they might more properly be classified as moods rather than full-fledged emotions. Moods typically facilitate certain ranges of object-directed emotions, but they form a class apart.

Finally, while different emotions may or may not have these various sorts of objects, every emotion has a formal object if it has any object. A formal object is a property implicitly ascribed by the emotion to its target, focus or propositional object, in virtue of which the emotion can be seen as intelligible. My fear of a dog, for example, construes a number of the dog’s features (its salivating maw, its ferocious bark) as being frightening, and it is my perception of the dog as frightening that makes my emotion fear, rather than some other emotion. The formal object associated with a given emotion is essential to the definition of that particular emotion. It is also, in part, what allows us to speak of emotions being appropriate or inappropriate. If the dog obstructing my path is a shitzu, my fear is mistaken: the target of my fear fails to fit fear’s formal object. As we shall see below, appropriateness in this sense does not entail moral correctness; but it makes the emotion intelligible even when it is abhorrent. Thus racist disgust, while obviously morally inappropriate, is nevertheless intelligible in terms of its link to paradigm cases of disgust.

Feeling Theories

2. Feeling Theories

The simplest theory of emotions, and perhaps the theory most representative of common sense, is that emotions are simply a class of feelings, differentiated from sensation and proprioceptions by their experienced quality. William James proposed a variant of this view (commonly known as the “James-Lange” theory of emotion, after James and Carl G. Lange) according to which emotions are specifically feelings caused by changes in physiological conditions relating to the autonomic and motor functions. When we perceive that we are in danger, for example, this perception sets off a collection of bodily responses, and our awareness of these responses is what constitutes fear. James thus maintained that “we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and [it is] not that we cry, strike, or tremble, because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be” (James 1884, 190). One problem with this theory is that it is unable to give an adequate account of the differences between emotions. This objection was first voiced by Walter Cannon (1929). According to James, what distinguishes emotions is the fact that each involves the perception of a unique set of bodily changes. Cannon claimed, however, that the visceral reactions characteristic of distinct emotions such as fear and anger are identical, and so these reactions cannot be what allow us to tell emotions apart. The same conclusion is usually drawn from an oft-cited experiment performed by Stanley Schacter and Jerome Singer (1962). Subjects in their study were injected with epinephrine, a stimulant of the sympathetic system. Schacter and Singer found that these subjects tended to interpret the arousal they experienced either as anger or as euphoria, depending on the type of situation they found themselves in. Some were placed in a room where an actor was being angry; others were placed in a room where an actor was being silly and euphoric. In both cases the subjects’ mood tended to follow that of the actor. The conclusion most frequently drawn is that, although some forms of general arousal are easily labeled in terms of some emotional state, there is no hope of finding in physiological states any principle of distinction between specific emotions. The differentiae of specific emotions are not physiological, but cognitive or something else.

Subsequent research has shown that a limited number of emotions do, in fact, have significantly different bodily profiles. (LeDoux 1996; Panksepp 1998) However, bodily changes and the feelings accompanying these changes get us only part way towards an adequate taxonomy. To account for the differences between guilt, embarrassment, and shame, for example, a plausible theory will have to look beyond physiology and common-sense phenomenology.

Another problem with feeling theories is that they tempt one to treat emotions as brute facts, no doubt susceptible of biological or psychological explanation but not otherwise capable of being rationalized. Emotions, however, are capable of being not only explained, but also justified–they are closely related to the reasons that give rise to them. If someone angers me, I can cite my antagonist’s deprecatory tone; if someone makes me jealous, I can point to his poaching on my emotional property. (Taylor 1975).

Both of these problems — that of differentiating individual emotions, and that of accounting for emotions’ various ties to rationality — can be traced, at least in part, to a more fundamental oversight. Feeling theories, by assimilating emotions to sensations, fail to take account of the fact that emotions are typically directed at intentional objects. This defect is to some extent mitigated in what might be regarded as a more sophisticated “feeling theory” elaborated by Antonio Damasio (1999). On Damasio’s view the capacity for emotions involves a capacity for the brain to monitor the body’s past and hypothetical responses, both in the autonomic and the voluntary systems, in terms of “somatic markers”. The association of characteristic bodily states with past and hypothetical experiences and responses establishes some connection between the emotion and the absent world, but falls short of fully explicating the intentional nature of emotion.

Emotions and the Topography of the Mind

1. Emotions and the Topography of the Mind

How do emotions fit into different conceptions of the mind? One model, advocated by Descartes as well as by many contemporary psychologists, posits a few basic emotions out of which all others are compounded. An alternative model views every emotion as consisting in, or at least including, some irreducibly specific component not compounded of anything simpler. Again, emotions might form an indefinitely broad continuum comprising a small number of finite dimensions (e.g. level of arousal, intensity, pleasure or aversion, self- or other-directedness, etc.). In much the way that color arises from the visual system’s comparison of retinal cones, whose limited sensitivity ranges correspond roughly to primary hues, we might then hope to find relatively simple biological explanations for the rich variety of emotions. Rigid boundaries between them would be arbitrary. Alternative models, based in physiology or evolutionary psychology, have posited modular subsystems or agents the function of which is to coordinate the fulfilment of basic needs, such as mating, affiliation, defense and the avoidance of predators. (Panksepp 1998, Cosmides and Tooby 2000). To date cognitive science does not seem to have provided any crucial tests to decide between competing models of the mind. An eclectic approach therefore seems warranted. What does seem well established in the light of cross-cultural research is that a number of emotions have inter-translatable names and universally recognizable expressions. According to Ekman and Friesen (1989) these are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust (the last two of which, however, some researchers consider too simple to be called emotions) (Panksepp 1998). Other emotions are not so easily recognizable cross-culturally, and some expressions are almost as local as dialects. But then this is an issue on which cognitive science alone should not, perhaps, be accorded the last word: what to a neurologist might be classed as two tokens of the same emotion type might seem to have little in common under the magnifying lens of a Proust.

Another range of models propose mutually conflicting ways of locating emotion within the general economy of the mind. Some treat emotion as one of many separate faculties. For Plato in the Republic, there seemed to have been three basic components of the human mind: the reasoning, the desiring, and the emotive parts. For Aristotle, the emotions are not represented as constituting a separate agency or module, but they had even greater importance, particularly in the moral life, our capacity for which Aristotle regarded as largely a result of leaning to feel the right emotions in the right circumstances. Hume’s notorious dictum that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions also placed the emotions at the very center of character and agency. For Spinoza, emotions are not lodged in a separate body in conflict with the soul, since soul and body are aspects of a single reality; but emotions, as affections of the soul, make the difference between the best and the worst lives, as they either increase the soul’s power to act, or diminish that power. In other models, emotions as a category are apt to be sucked into either of two other faculties of mind. They are then treated as a mere composite or offshoot of those other faculties: a peculiar kind of belief, or a vague kind of desire or will. The Stoics made emotions into judgments about the value of things incidental to an agent’s virtue. Hobbes assimilated “passions” to specific appetites or aversions. Kant too saw emotions as essentially conative phenomena, but grouped them with inclinations enticing the will to act on motives other than that of duty.

Twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy and psychology have also tended to incorporate emotions into other, better understood mental categories. Under the influence of a “tough-minded” ideology committed to behaviorism, theories of action or will, and theories of belief or knowledge, had seemed more readily achievable than theories of emotion. Economic models of rational decision and agency inspired by Bayesian theory are essentially assimilative models, viewing emotion either as a species of belief, or as a species of desire.

That enviably resilient Bayesian model has been cracked, in the eyes of many philosophers, by such refractory phenomena as akrasia or “weakness of will.” In cases of akrasia, traditional descriptive rationality seems to be violated, insofar as the “strongest” desire does not win, even when paired with the appropriate belief (Davidson 1980). Emotion is ready to pick up the slack–if only we had a coherent theory of how it does it.

It is one thing, however, to recognize the need for a theory of mind that finds a place for the unique role of emotions, and quite another to construct one. Emotions vary so much in a number of dimensions–transparency, intensity, behavioral expression, object-directedness, and susceptibility to rational assessment–as to cast doubt on the assumption that they have anything in common. However, while this variation may have led philosophers to steer clear of emotions in the past, emotions are no longer being studiously avoided in the way that they once were. The explanatory inadequacy of theories that shortchange emotion is becoming increasingly apparent, and philosophy is gradually bringing emotion back into its purview. It is no longer the case, as Peter Goldie (2000) observes, that emotion is treated as a poor relation in the philosophy of mind.

Emotions – Introduction

One of the central themes that runs throughout the debate on rationality is that of emotions and their purpose. There are a large number of papers and books available on the subjects, and over the next week or so, it is probably worthwhile summarising some of the main points. The particular articles produced here are from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Most of the articles over the next two week will be by Ronald de Sousa.


First published Mon 3 Feb, 2003

No aspect of our mental life is more important to the quality and meaning of our existence than emotions. They are what make life worth living, or sometimes ending. So it is not surprising that most of the great classical philosophers–Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume–had recognizable theories of emotion, conceived as responses to certain sorts of events of concern to a subject, triggering bodily changes and typically motivating characteristic behavior. What is surprising is that in much of the twentieth-century philosophers of mind and psychologists tended to neglect them–perhaps because the sheer variety of phenomena covered by the word “emotion” and its closest neighbors tends to discourage tidy theory. In recent years, however, emotions have once again become the focus of vigorous interest in philosophy, as well as in other branches of cognitive science. In view of the proliferation of increasingly fruitful exchanges between researches of different stripes, it is no longer useful to speak of the philosophy of emotion in isolation from the approaches of other disciplines, particularly psychology, neurology and evolutionary biology. While it is quite impossible to do justice to those approaches here, some sidelong glances in their direction will aim to suggest their philosophical importance.

I begin by outlining some of the ways that philosophers have conceived of the place of emotions in the topography of the mind, particularly in their relation to bodily states, to motivation, and to beliefs and desires, as well as some of the ways in which they have envisaged the relation between different emotions. Most emotions have an intentional structure: we shall need to say something about what that means. Psychology and more recently evolutionary biology have offered a number of theories of emotions, stressing their function in the conduct of life. Philosophers have been especially partial to cognitivist theories, emphasizing analogies either with propositional judgments or with perception. But different theories implicitly posit different ontologies of emotion, and there has been some dispute about what emotions really are, and indeed whether they are any kind of thing at all. Emotions also raise normative questions: about the extent to which they can be said to be rational, or can contribute to rationality. In that regard the question of our knowledge of our own emotions is especially problematic, as it seems they are both the object of our most immediate awareness and the most powerful source of our capacity for self-deception. This results in a particularly ambivalent relation between emotions and morality. I will conclude with a recapitulation of the main positions defended by some three dozen philosophers of emotion in the past half century.

1. Emotions and the Topography of the Mind

2. Feeling Theories

3. Emotions and Intentional Objects

4. Psychological and Evolutionary Approaches

5. Cognitivist Theories

6. Perceptual Theories

7. The Ontology of Emotions

8. Rationality and Emotions

9. Emotions and Self-knowledge

10. Morality and Emotions

12. Conclusion: Adequacy Conditions on Theories of Emotion

Section 1 to be published on Monday (29th January)


Narrative, Evidence, Morality

The Role of Narrative as a Form of Evidence in Modern Academic Debate

International Debate Education Association Conference, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, October 2000Jason Taylor and Jason Jarvis, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA

The construction of this essay has been an enlightening experience for the both of us. As we sat down to discuss the details of the paper and formulate our arguments we went through a stimulating series of discussions. We set out to organize a coherent argument for the use of narrative as an alternative source of evidence. We explored a number of possibilities for the direction of the paper. Midway through this process it apparent that the way we were going about defending narratives was constructed in a manner that was completely disassociated from narrative styles of discourse. We realized that we were caught in a paradox. We were, in essence, invoking a highly specialized and technical rationality in order to defend a mode of discourse that seeks to question the practice in which we were presently engaged. We were invoking narrative in a very non-narrative style. “Why don’t we just tell stories for our conference presentation?” one of us suggested. Though we entertained the idea for some time, we eventually came to the conclusion that simply “telling stories” on an international conference panel would not meet the standards of academic rigor that the community expects. Nor would it give us appropriate justification to request funds from our department to attend said international conference. Consequently, we set out to reach a compromise that acknowledged the technical and academic skills that allowed us to be part of this panel, and in that acknowledgement, provide a justification for the use of narrative in an academic and debate context. What follows is a result of that compromise.

Initially, we will explore conceptions of evidence as they are presented within two recently developed traditions of rhetorical theory. Specifically, we address Walter Fisher’s construction of the narrative paradigm and Thomas Goodnight’s elaboration of public, personal and technical spheres of argument. After examining the basic tenets of each person’s theory, we examine how narrative can function within the realm of modern debate and discourse to reconnect both speakers and listeners to ways of knowing that an exclusively technical form of argument excludes and inhibits. Narrative rationality offers a unique tool which can serve to balance the overarching focus that American academic debate and public policy debates have placed on exclusive and technical modes of discourse. These claims will be made through an examination of the importance of narrative in the context of debates about the environment, with a specific emphasis on the bush meat crisis facing Africa.FisherFisher’s primary contribution to our understanding of evidence stems from his articulation of the narrative paradigm. Fisher considers the means by which people evaluate arguments made within the public sphere (Fisher, “Narration as a” 11-15). He is particularly concerned with the increasingly technical nature of moral issues that are evaluated within the public sphere. Fisher asserts that given the traditional view of rationality, publics must be trained in the standards of a rhetorical community in order to evaluate the complex arguments and evidence that they generate (“Narration as a” 4). Unfortunately, most of the public lacks this technical training. Similarly, no individual can begin to reach the levels of proficiency in all of the fields that would be required to evaluate the breadth of issues that are addressed in the public realm. Consequently, Fisher suggests that alternative conceptions of rationality are necessary in order to explain the public’s capacity to understand complex technical evidence that is presented to them. Fisher’s narrative paradigm offers that alternative. Fisher offers a theory of communication that considers humans as homo narrans; people understand the world through the telling and assessment of stories (Fisher, “In the beginning” 75). In this sense, Fisher argues that all evidence can be evaluated by means of a narrative rationality. In his theory, Fisher establishes two conceptions of rationality, the rational world paradigm and the narrative paradigm. The rational world paradigm assumes that humans are rational beings that make decisions based on the assessment of structured arguments. People’s capacity to understand arguments is based on their augmentative skill, knowledge of the subject matter, and proficiency at operating within the appropriate normative structures that shape the argument (Fisher, “Narration as a” 4). Fisher suggests that the public sphere has become dominated by the presence of “experts” who have distorted the meaning of public moral argument for the layperson (“Narration as a” 11-15). The consequence of this distortion is the mitigation of the general public’s capacity to effectively comprehend and contribute to public moral argument. The primary problem with adopting a rational world-view of rationality is that it lacks explanatory power in elucidating peoples’ navigation of public moral argument. Many moral issues that are evaluated within the public sphere are laden with technical terms that most lay persons would not understand given the tenets of the rational world paradigm. Issues of global warming for example, are heavily dependent on complex understandings of gaseous chemistry and physics. Despite these complexities, people are able to come to understandings of important issues. Fisher asserts that the people’s ability to understand public moral argument can be explained more adequately by the narrative paradigm. Conceiving of human beings as storytellers, Fisher contends that people make sense of technical forms of evidence through the use of narrative rationality (Fisher, Human Communication as Narration 349-350). The two primary components of narrative rationality are narrative probability and narrative fidelity. Fisher elaborates:




Narrative probability refers to formal features of a story conceived as a discrete sequence of thought and/or action in life or literature;… i.e., it concerns the question of whether or not a story coheres or “hangs together,” whether or not the story is free of contradictions. Narrative fidelity concerns the “truth qualities” of the story, the degree to which it accords with the logic of good reasons: the soundness of its reasoning and the value of its values. (“An elaboration” 349-350)  




Ultimately, people are able to comprehend the evidence utilized in complex and technical moral arguments much in the same way they understand stories, by evaluating internal consistencies of the story’s progression and by assessing whether or not the values of the story in question are consistent with their own values. Rather than experts, Fisher suggests that knowledgeable individuals play the role of counselor in the evaluation of public moral argument. These counselors should make contributions that help guide the public and lead them toward well informed decisions rather than displaying an unquestionable “truth” before the public (Fisher, “Narration as a” 13).   

One of Fisher’s principal critics is Robert Rowland. Rowland suggests that Fisher is over-ambitious in claiming that narrative should be considered a paradigm (264-275). Two elements of Rowland’s critique that are particularly relevant to this discussion are considered hereafter. First, Rowland maintains that Fisher’s construction of narrative rationality ultimately resorts to the same standards of rationality inherent in the rational world paradigm. Rowland explains:




…narrative fidelity and probability do not avoid the problems with evaluating public moral argument that led Fisher to develop the narrative paradigm in the first place. In fact, these standards lead directly to traditional tests for argument and evidence. Narrative probability can be seen as the equivalent to consistency, and narrative fidelity can be treated as the equivalent of informal logic tests of evidence and reasoning. (270)   




Additionally, Rowland argues that the existence of privileged standards of evaluation is necessary in the evaluation of public moral argument, lest we regress into an inescapable state of moral relativism.   

Finally, Rowland sees the presence of experts in the evaluation of public moral arguments as necessary and rejects Fisher’s suggestion that knowledgeable individuals should serve as counselors. He asserts that the distinction between expert and counselor is not all that dramatic in the first place and that by having knowledgeable people fill this role, Fisher does not avoid the problem that he attempted to solve. There is no check to ensure that counselors would not still abuse their status. Similarly, there is no reason that a “traditional rationality… has to be elitist” (Rowland 272).

GoodnightGoodnight’s contributions to our understanding of evidence lie in his distinction between the public, personal and technical spheres of argument (“The personal” 214-227). Goodnight’s primary contention is that each of these respective realms is governed by a different set of evaluative standards and thus is distinct from each of the others. These standards determine the kinds of evidence that are appropriate within certain communities and the standards that are utilized to evaluate the utility of that evidence. Goodnight posits:

Members of “societies” and “historical cultures” participate in a vast, and not altogether coherent superstructures which invite them to channel doubts through prevailing discourse practices. In the democratic tradition, we can categorize these channels as the personal, the technical and the public spheres. “Sphere” denotes branches of activity–the grounds upon which arguments are built and the authorities to which arguers appeal. (“The personal” 216)  




The personal sphere, according to Goodnight is prototyped by the conversation. In this sphere, two, or a small number of individuals engage in conversation that is cast in some private setting. The participants determine the meanings associated with that conversation and standards for evaluating the veracity of claims made within the realm are transient and unstructured. Unlike the personal sphere, the technical sphere, is characterized by highly structured standards of evaluation. The exemplars of this sphere of argument are the trial and the experiment. Standards are applied in a consistent manner allowing for the consistent and efficient evaluation of argument. The final sphere of argument advanced by Goodnight is that of the public sphere. The public sphere exists and is necessary “…to address those topics that can be resolved neither through personal conversation nor state of the art procedure” (Goodnight, “Public Discourse” 429). The public sphere provides a forum for the resolution of controversy and for public deliberation. Goodnight is careful to assert that the boundaries between these spheres are not rigid and at times argument can exist within multiple spheres simultaneously, however, he does suggest that the boundaries are actively maintained by formal structures that encourage the independence of each of the spheres. Privacy laws, for example, discourage the government from meddling in private affairs, thus encouraging the independence of the spheres (“Public Discourse” 428-429).  

Similar to Fisher, Goodnight sees the intermingling of spheres as problematic. Despite the fact that formalized structures exist that discourage trans-spherical influence, Goodnight argues that the public sphere “…is being steadily eroded by the elevation of personal and technical grounding of argument” (“The personal” 223). The overemphasis of the personal and technical grounding of argument within the public sphere has led to a general decline in Western culture’s ability to engage in public deliberation. Examples of this deterioration can be seen in recent elections, which according to Goodnight have been more about the presentation of a personality than the critical assessment of substantive argument. Similarly, technical concerns have infiltrated the public sphere in the assessment of many controversial conditions such as the environment. Without training in technical standards for evaluation of these arguments, or the access to the language to interpret them, the general citizenry has been effectively eliminated from public debate.

Goodnight’s assessment of the public sphere has been met with some resistance. Willard questions the manner in which Goodnight separates the technical from the public sphere. He suggests that this separation is achieved by the claim that “the public sphere is rhetorical while the technical sphere is not” (47). If the technical sphere is assumed to be a non-rhetorical sphere, it dramatically distorts our understanding of the ways in which policy decisions are influenced because it assumes that technical issues do not require public deliberation. This is certainly untrue.

Willard asserts it is important to recognize the influence of technical arguments on policy formation. At times questions only addressable by the technical sphere are incredibly relevant to our existence:




[Goodnight] underestimates the degree to which public uncertainties turn upon discipline based questions. Is this bridge sound? Does low level radiation cause cancer? How can the ozone depletion be reduced? Should Challenger be launched? Our need for such facts is one reason why we have disciplines; and the degree to which questions of fact intermingle with considerations of collective interest is… the core problematic of public debate. (Willard 49)  




Because of our frequent (and sometimes necessary) dependence on the technical within the public sphere, Willard suggests that the distinction between the public sphere not be made at such a fundamental level. Ultimately, Goodnight retains most of the explanatory power of his theory by simply stating that the public sphere and the technical spheres are different in important ways. Framing the debate in this manner, it is possible to gain a better understanding of the interconnectedness of the technical and the public spheres.   

The CritiqueWhile Fisher and Goodnight’s constructions have certainly proved to be useful in understanding contemporary rhetorical behavior, we believe that an analysis of these theories yields several interesting implications. Most notably is the unidirectionality of influence between specialized, technical ways of knowing (the technical sphere) and common, narrative ways of knowing (the personal and public spheres). Both authors cite as the impetus for their theoretical constructions, the saturation of the public sphere with highly specialized and technical forms of argument. They see this influence as problematic and offer their theoretical constructs as a means to help rectify the situation. While we agree that the domination of specialized forms of discourse in the public sphere is problematic, we also contend that the inability of non-specialized, narrative discourses to influence technical spheres of argument is equally as problematic.As previously outlined, Fisher is concerned with explaining the public’s ability to comprehend arguments when they lack the specialized training of experts. He suggests that within the narrative paradigm, knowledgeable individuals should play the role of counselor, helping to guide the public to informed decisions. This construction, however, suggests a one way relationship between the counselor and the untrained. The counselor (expert) imparts knowledge to the layperson. As such this relationship excludes the possibility of mutual influence. It does not provide the opportunity for the layperson to impart knowledge to the counselor. Additionally, Fisher suggests that the Narrative paradigm is not meant to replace the rational world paradigm, it is intended to subsume it. Technical communities are simply viewed by the public as another form of a story and evaluated by the standards of narrative fidelity and probability. As such, Fisher seems to concede that certain rhetorical communities will continue to operate, invoking standards that exclude narrative ways of knowing from their epistemological foundations. Within these communities technical discourse retains its privileged status and excludes the possibility of outside influence. Thus Fisher’s construction may help explain the public’s ability to understand technical discourses in which they are not trained, but it does not make technical discourse communities accountable for the world outside of them.

Similarly, Goodnight’s construction of personal, public and technical spheres of argument implicates the inability of non-technical forms of evidence to be influential within technical spheres. While Goodnight does recognize the public’s ability to influence the technical sphere at times, he sees this relationship as an issue of resource allocation not epistemology (“The personal” 221-222). Additionally, Goodnight’s exclusive focus on the tainting of the public sphere by the technical and personal spheres and the exclusion of any reciprocal influences illustrates the need to consider the potential of these relationships.

The claims of Goodnight and Fisher are particularly important for scholars of argument and society at large. We contend that the problems we identify below with exclusive technical communities can be seen in other groups such as science and academia, but we have chosen to focus on modern American policy debate. Therefore we will identify some of these problems and then look at debates about the environment as emblematic of the problems created by the rejection of narrative as a legitimate form of knowledge.

Initially, two things should be noted. First, our goal is not to trash American policy debate as a whole. We echo the sentiments of one debater who said: “No other setting can encourage the development of as many different political skills in the form of research, communication and critical thinking, but that is no excuse to become complacent. Everything can get better” (Smith and Grove A-3). Our goal is to demonstrate that failure to include narratives as a legitimate form of evidence is dangerous because it implicitly limits the social significance and educational value of our activity. Second, unlike Hollihan, Baaske, and Riley we do not advocate narrative as a paradigm for debate. Our position attempts to augment the conception of narrative advocated by McDonald and Jarman who suggest that narrative should be considered as another form of evidence (6). Personal accounts, poetry, song, and oral traditions that rely on storytelling offer the prospect of understanding issues in diverse ways. Indeed, we intend to demonstrate that some issues cannot be grasped unless presented in a format other than traditional technical discourse.

Unfortunately, much of modern American policy debate mirrors many of the problems identified by Fisher and Goodnight with the rational world paradigm and the exclusivity of the technical sphere of discourse. While some teams have attempted to change this condition, high school and intercollegiate policy debate in America remains a highly exclusive, technical activity that relies on student and faculty experts who participate in a rapid regurgitation of technical information. Debate is private in the sense that it involves a small number of people engaging in a series of two hour conversations about policy issues and it is highly technical in the language, customs and information that is used in the activity. The general public has little or no understanding of our activity and would be unable to relate to the average policy debate round. Hollihan, Baaske and Riley explain this phenomenon:




Highly trained and technically skilled advocates make arguments that can be understood only by highly trained and technically skilled impartial debate judges. Debate educators claim that they are committed to training students for life in a democracy, actual practices in debate, however, produce an elitist ideology which presumes that the man or woman off the street is too uninformed, uninterested, unintelligent, or biased to play an important policymaking role. (185)  




It seems to us that this trend in debate is highly problematic, if not dangerous for a number of reasons. Initially, policy debate is directly responsible for shaping the modes of thought that future policy makers and citizens are willing to engage. A strictly technical mode of discourse, which marginalizes narrative, creates future technocratic elites who cannot come to terms with the potential values and ways of knowing the world which narrative forms of presentation offer us (Hollihan, Baaske and Riley 186). This is detrimental to society since these policymakers have a direct influence on the content of information in the public sphere. The information that a policymaker or citizen chooses to present to Congress or the news media or when making a speech is directly responsible for the direction of public discourse.   

Second, our decisions about the future of American policy debate are important for both our own community and the future of the policy debate community worldwide. This conference is indicative of the fact that our community is not isolated from the rest of the world. American debaters travel yearly on tours of Europe, Japan, and other countries. Foreign coaches come to the United States and study our format in an effort to introduce it to their country. Gyeong-Ho Hur spent four weeks in Vermont this summer studying policy debate with the explicit goal of starting a program at Kyung Hee University in Korea. American style, English language policy debate is being exported and it is incumbent upon our community to acknowledge both our strengths and our shortcomings in an effort to maximize its relevance to communities worldwide.

Third, an exclusive reliance on technical forms of knowledge is dangerous as it serves to desensitize community members to the social reality of the information that is being read. American policy debater Jairus Grove of the University of Texas noted that typical debaters seem “more concerned with the risk of political debate than the effect the presented policies had upon those without the ‘political capital’ to heard or considered important” (Smith and Grove A-1). Jairus and his partner actively sought to incorporate poems, songs, and narrative in an effort to “focus on new political possibilities” (Smith and Grove A-1).

While it is ironic that we can find joy in the tragedy of others around the world as we do research and prepare our arguments, a failure to recognize this irony is tragic and horrifying. In short, does the technical process of debate maximize our educational potential? Does the rejection of narrative as a legitimate form of knowledge and evidence inhibit the ability of our community to truly know the issues and subsequently to translate that knowledge into a complete understanding and relationship to the gravity of the problems that we research? In order to demonstrate our claim that the policy debate community must embrace narrative as a form of evidence we will examine the African bush meat crisis and the importance of narrative in changing our values about non-human nature.

The Bushmeat CrisisWhile there are many environmental problems that we could use to illustrate our claims, this year’s collegiate debate topic provided us with an example that captures the essence of the value of narrative in communicating information in unique and powerful ways. More specifically, we choose to focus on the bush meat crisis in Africa. While the problems that face Africa are many and varied, the bush meat issue is valuable because it exists at the intersection of many issues that challenge the future of the African continent. Bush meat is intimately related to economic development, survival of indigenous cultures and traditions, biodiversity and ecological sustainability, and the AIDS epidemic that has swept across both Africa and the world. Each of these issues will be addressed in turn.Bush meat has traditionally been associated with subsistence hunting practices of African societies. Indigenous hunters would roam the jungles and forests of Africa and hunt animals from the “bush” to eat as food. Any game obtained from the wild in Africa would constitute bush meat. However, the advent of intensive logging has led to the commercialization of the bush meat trade. The result has been that areas of forest that were previously inaccessible have become available to commercial hunters who are now providing meat to the growing populations of cities throughout Africa. In Cameroon, “half a ton of bush meat, mostly of chimps, is transported to Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon every day” (Wasswa). Indigenous forest dwellers have been replaced by illegal for profit hunters who are literally emptying African forests of their wildlife (Africa News, “Chimpanzees”). Even worse the demand for bush meat has increased internationally, and bush meat has been seen on menus throughout Europe and the United States (Africa News, “Gorilla”).

Sadly, primates are uniquely threatened by this practice. As much as 20% of the illegal bush meat trade is primates (Rose, “The African”). The hunting of primates has driven them to the brink of extinction in Africa, eclipsing deforestation as the primary threat to the existence of primates (Africa News, “Chimpanzees”). Even worse, scientists in West Africa announced that the first primate extinction of the century has officially taken place. Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey was declared extinct in September (CNN). Additionally, six species of primates have been added to the list of endangered species by the World Conservation Union, due mainly to the illegal bush meat trade (CNN). These announcements underscore the incredible importance of rapid action on the bush meat issue.

There are both intrinsic and instrumental reasons to protect primates and stop the spread of the commercial bush meat trade. Joseph Verrengia notes that the bush meat trade is particularly pernicious because it threatens the viability of chimpanzee cultures. Chimpanzees have been seen to exhibit characteristics that had previously only been associated with human societies and cultures. Primates use tools, have grooming and mating customs, and use plants for specific medicinal purposes (Verrengia). In similar situations the international community has intervened when cultures and communities were threatened with annihilation. The fact that these cultures happen to be “animal” cultures hardly seems to justify inaction.

Additionally, wildlife expert Ian Redmond noted in 1998 that primates are often a linchpin of local ecosystems:




Primates are often keystone species in their habitat, and their disappearance can lead to significant changes in the remaining ecosystem. Plants which depend on them for seed dispersal, for example, will decline, as will any animal species which feed or otherwise depend on those species of plant.   




Undoubtedly, the subsistence hunting communities that rely on bush animals as a source of food would suffer as well, if for profit hunting continues. While they are equally guilty of eating bush meat, it is vitally important to recognize that the threats to primates are not from subsistence cultivation which has operated for centuries on a seasonal basis, allowing animal populations to reproduce.  

Finally, if the previous intrinsic justifications for curtailing the bush meat trade were not compelling then consider the fact that most of the world’s leading scientists have concluded that bush meat is the most likely origin of the current AIDS epidemic. Failure to curtail the bush meat trade may well result in new strains of HIV being unleashed upon the planet (Rose “Human Health”). This is because primates can transmit Simian Immunodeficiency Virus to humans, and bush meat is generally cleaned and processed out in the wild, creating ample opportunities for the transfer of the disease via blood and mucous to humans where it becomes HIV (Rose, “Human Health”).

While it is true that the above facts are startling and unnerving, the question remains what the best way to understand this issue is. Traditional debate practices would have us recite the facts and statistics at high rates of speed in an attempt to overwhelm both the judge and the opposition with the size of the impacts and the gravity of the situation. This approach has technical value and utility within technical communities, but it also has severe limitations. Our personal understanding has been most dramatically shaped by the narrative accounts that we have come across during our research. It is now time to provide a sample of those accounts and then examine the reasons why such narratives are critically important in shaping attitudes and changing beliefs about the non-human world and human practices which threaten to destroy the delicate balance of world ecosystems.

The Bush Meat StoryGary Richardson, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals recounts the following story from his trip to Africa in 1995: 



As the lorry finally pulled into the marketplace, a crowd of several hundred people surged forward to begin bargaining for the goods. Around fifty animals were tied to its sides, all recently shot and on sale as “bush meat”. I could see the carcasses of antelope, guenon monkeys, porcupines, cane rats and several other local forest species.  

Then amongst the throng I noticed the headless torso of a “silverback” lowland gorilla. The sight of this once majestic creature, laying dismembered by the roadside, filled me with revulsion. Its death seemed so pointless and futile. But to the traders and shoppers, who walked casually by, it was just another piece of meat.

From a sack, the owner of the carcass suddenly withdrew the gorilla’s huge black hand, which had been severed at the wrist. Its fingers were still flexible as passers-by fondled and inspected the meat. It looked so human, I found it impossible to believe that anyone could actually consider eating it.

The same day we visited another village where we were told there was a baby gorilla which had been captured alive. We arrived at the site at around midday and were shown the tiny body of the gorilla which lay in an old suitcase. It had died only a few hours earlier. The owner had tried to feed it with bananas, despite it being only a few weeks old.

The hunter told me he had shot the female a couple of weeks ago, hacked her up and put her dismembered body parts in a large sack. He then picked up the tiny baby and stuffed it into the same sack on top of its butchered mother. He sold the meat at a nearby logging camp then brought the baby home for his children to play with.

It’s hard to imagine a more gruesome fate for these highly sensitive and sociable animals. The great apes are mankind’s closest relatives, yet throughout Africa the slaughter of these magnificent species has been continuing unabated.




Additionally, the following comments appeared on the Africa News Press Release in an article entitled “Gorillas may be extinct in 50 years”. (Note that this and other pictures are included after the Works Cited page as an appendix):   




Nothing encapsulates this projection better than Mr. Karl Amman’s World Society for the Protection of Animals award-winning shot of a gorilla’s head severed from the carcass lying on a shallow tin bowl awaiting the cooking pot.  

One of the dead animal’s eyeballs is pooping out, haphazardly, more like that of a badly wounded mono-eyed freak, peering sorrowfully from inside the bowl. The mouth is half-shut and a bloodied tongue, visible.

Placed besides the bushy head is a bunch of big, ripe bananas to presumably go with the macabre delicacy once it is stewed. The sight is gruesome, the atmosphere, grim. All part of a graphic illustration of the brutal slaughter of primates for the bush meat trade.




Implications: The Imperative of Narrative   

There are certain issues that demand narratives. McDonald and Jarman note that “narratives do provide knowldege. A story has the power to convey information and humanize a situation which might be unavailable in other formats. For instance, issues of racism and discrimination seem aptly suited to discussions via narrative” (6). While they confine their comments to a purely human context, I believe that their claims can be expanded to suggest that there are simply some issues that cannot be fully understood until you experience them: environmental problems are exactly such an issue.

Michael Bruner and Max Oelschlaeger note that two-thirds of Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists, yet paradoxically the “noose of the ecocrisis continues to tighten around their necks” (384). Why does such a paradox exist? We suggest that this is due to the dominance of the technical sphere in modern public discourse in relation to the environment. Gary Richardson’s story and one’s like it, frequently fall on deaf ears because they are overwhelmed by the narratives of science, exploitation and instrumentalism that dominate Western culture (Grove-White and Michael 44).

The dominant narratives of Western society explicitly discount the claims of environmentalists as hysterical or little more than hyperbole (Killingsworth and Palmer 3). Unfortunately, the mainstream rejection of environmental discourse has only served to provoke environmentalists more, creating a feedback loop that Killingsworth and Palmer explain succinctly:




If the fervor of environmentalism seems irrational, that is because in the view of the environmentalists, an ostensibly rational public discourse has neglected the signs of trouble for so long that only a cry of pain can break the public habit of inattention. (3)  




While there is a long tradition of nature writing within Western culture, the value of stories is largely discounted by the dominant paradigm. Artists, poets, and storytellers are largely viewed to have little to say on issues that seem to require a technical solution. The participation of such members of society seems to be “absurd” (Raglon and Scholtmeijer 27). Ultimately, “the fault lies not with artists, poets, dancers, and storytellers, but with a society that places little value on the type of insight about nature that arts can provide” (Raglon and Scholtmeijer 27).   

Raglon and Scholtmeijer locate the real problem between humans and non-humans as a problem in the way that we understand the non-human world. They suggest that arguments alone will not create the philosophical and reflexive changes that are critical to altering our destruction of the non-human world. “It is only by telling new stories about the natural world, that we will eventually be able to find those ‘slippages’ necessary to radically reimagine ‘nature’”(22).

The implication of such claims for modern policy debate practices is somewhat tremendous. Every year debaters compile hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence, often about environmental problems. Ironically, we contribute directly to the environmental crisis through our tremendous resource usage and yet our impact on the environmental crisis in the real world is debatable at best. Moreover, we generally do not accept a form of evidence that many environmentalists and environmental philosophers identify as essential to changing the way all people (ourselves included) view the non-human world and our relationship to it. Raglon and Scholtmeijer indicate that:




To act differently in the world, in other words, requires that we see the world in a different way. Our point is that it is only through our stories that different meanings can be investigated. What remains problematical is the fact that few believe that stories are a legitimate source of knowledge about nature. (37)  




As the examples of the bush meat crisis above demonstrate, technical ways of knowing have their limits. Statistics and facts can enlighten an individual and shock a person intellectually, however they may not provide enough intimate contact with the subject matter to actually cause an individual to take action or fully relate to the subject. Imaginative efforts and practices are particularly valuable because “imagination has its own kind of intelligence, but one that is of its nature manifest in imagery and storytelling that draws the listener/reader into participatory contact with paradoxical forms of knowing” (Ebenreck 11). Richardson’s story is powerful because it elicits an immediate and undeniable feeling of revulsion at the prospect of child being carried around on top of its mother’s own carcass. The story serves as a catalyst to concretize the abstract stream of facts, which may stimulate us intellectually but which do not move us as emotionally as the story does. The story serves the purpose of augmenting the facts of the situation and personalizing them in a persuasive way.   

The acceptance of narratives such as Richardson’s or other more non-traditional narratives such as poems or songs is critical to expanding our intellectual and discursive horizons as an intellectual and emotional community. The dominant cultural discourse that rejects non-objective work as a legitimate form of evidence is a fundamental part of the larger environmental problem. Academia is a unique example of these issues as C. A. Bowers explains:




Although public school and university education, in both their curricular content and their patterns of teaching, are cultural processes, we have not really understood the special educational issues raised by the culture-language-thought connection. One of the reason for is connected with the specific cultural pattern of thinking now being brought into question by the ecological crisis. Thus, a deeper understanding of culture, as well as the specific cultural patterns now being recognized as problematic, may also help guide us toward a more ecologically responsive approach to public school and university education. (21)   




As an academic community we have an obligation to investigate the linguistic practices that create and perpetuate environmental problems. Despite the efforts of some members in our community, we perpetuate the problem identified by Bowers in academia by excluding opportunities to revision our relationship with nature. The linguistic choices that we make, and the perceptions that these choices create are intimately tied in with the policies that are ultimately deemed to be appropriate solutions to the problems we discuss (Chawla 254-255). If narrative is excluded as a form of evidence, we train a community of technocrats who sees ecological problems from an instrumental perspective relating to resource usage and over or under development. Therefore, we do a pedagogical disservice to our community and to society at large, as we create a set of trained objective scholars, who enter the world to deal with problems that may require solutions based in alternative forms of communication and knowledge.  

If we believe that our community is to have any impact on society at large then it seems imperative that we at least open our forum to forms of evidence that provide the “slippages” necessary to change our perspective about pressing social issues. As persons involved in highly technical, specialized discourse communities, we must recognize the potential for lived, embodied experience and the narratives that describe that experience to influence the technical communities of which we are a part. With respect to environmental issues, this means that an exclusion of narrative as a form of evidence to at least be used in conjunction with scholarly research dooms us to recreate the very problems that legitimize the pillage of the non-human world in the first place. In practice, the communities that we inhabit must question the rigidity of the means by which we evaluate evidence and remain open to alternative ways of knowing. This is imperative as we begin to engage the growing worldwide debate community and the valuable contribution that the American forensics community can make to debate on a global level.


Works Cited



Africa News. “Chimpanzees, Gorillas may be extinct in 50 years.” 15 May 2000.

Online. Lexis-Nexis. 24 Aug. 2000.—. “Gorilla Population Threatened by Illegal Meat Trade.” 17 April 2000.Online. Lexis-Nexis. 25 Aug. 2000.Bowers, C. A. Education, Cultural Myths, and the Ecological Crisis. Albany, NY:

State University of New York Press, 1993.

Bruner, Michael and Max Oelschlaeger. “Rhetoric, Environmentalism, andEnvironmental Ethics.” Environmental Ethics 16 (1994): 377-396.Chawla, Saroj. “Linguistic and Philosophical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.”Environmental Ethics 13 (1991): 253-262.CNN. “Conservation group adds 200 animals to endangered list.” 28 Sept.




2000. Online. Cable News Network Homepage. 28 Sept. 2000. Available: www.cnn.com.  




Ebenreck, Sarah. “Opening Pandora’s Box: Imagination’s Role in Environmental  

Ethics.” Environmental Ethics 18 (1996): 3-18.

Fisher, W. R. “Clarifying the narrative paradigm.” Communication Monographs 56

(1989): 55-58.

—. Human communication as narration: Toward a philosophy of reason, value

and action. Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1987.

—. “The narrative paradigm: An elaboration.” Communication Monographs 52

(1985): 347-367.

—. “The narrative paradigm: In the beginning.” Journal of Communication 35

(1985b): 74-89.

—. “Narration as a human communication paradigm: The case of public moral

argument.” Communication Monographs 51 (1984): 1-22.

Goodnight, G.T. “The personal, technical, and public spheres of argument.”

Journal of the American Forensics Association 18 (1982): 214-227.

—. “Public discourse.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4 (1987): 428-431.

—. “Toward a theory of argumentation.” Argumentation and Advocacy 26 (1989): 60-69.

Goodnight, G. T. and Hingstman, D. B. “Studies in the public sphere.” Quarterly

Journal of Speech 83 (1997): 351-399.


Grove-White, Robin and Mike Michael. “Talking about Taliking about Nature:



Nurturing Ecological Consciousness.” Environmental Ethics 15 (1993): 33-47.  



Hollihan, Thomas and Kevin T. Baaske and Patricia Riley. “Debaters as  

Storytellers: The Narrative Perspective in Academic Debate.” Journal of

the American Forensics Association 23 (1987): 184-193.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie and Jacqueline S. Palmer. “The Discourse of


‘Environmentalist Hysteria’.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 81 (1995): 1-19.   


McDonald, Kelly and Jeffrey W. Jarman. “Getting the Story Right: The Role of  

Narrative in Academic Debate.” Rostrum 72 (1998): 5-20.Raglon, Rebecca and Marian Scholtmeijer. “Shifting Ground: Metanarratives,  


Epistemology, and the Stories of Nature.” Environmental Ethics 18 (1996): 19-38.  




Redmond, Ian. Online. 25 Aug. 2000. Available: www.psgb.org/Meetings/Spring1998.html.  

Richardson, Gary. “The Slaughter of the Apes.” 1995. Online. 24 Oct. 2000.Available: www.kilimanjaro.com/wspa/wspa.htm.Rose, Anthony. “Human Health Could Depend on Saving Apes.” 1999. Online. 25 Aug. 2000. Available: www.biosynergy.org.—. “The African Great Ape Bush Meat Crisis.” Pan Africa News. Winter 1996.Online. 24 Aug. 2000. Available: www.biosynergy.org/bushmeat.Rowland, R. C. “On limiting the narrative paradigm: Three case studies.”Communication Monographs 56 (1989): 39-54.—. “Narrative: Mode of discourse or paradigm?” Communication Monographs 54(1987): 264-275.

Smith, Ross and Jairus Grove. “A Dialogue about Evolving Approaches toDebate.” Debater’s Research Guide (2000): (A-1)-(A-3).

Verrengia, Joseph. “Chimp Culture Recognized.” Associated Press. 16 June.




Online. 24 Aug. 2000. Available: abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DailyNews/chimpanzees990616.htm  




Wasswa, Henry. “Chimp Protection Urged in Africa.” Associated Press. 6 May  

    1. Online. 25 Aug. 2000. Available: www.virunga.org/jbin/story/1994.

Willard, C. A. “The creation of publics: Notes on Goodnight’s historical relativity.”

Argumentation and Advocacy 26 (1989): 45-59.

Theism, Atheism, and Rationality

This article on Theism, Atheism, and Rationality  is by Alvin Plantinga  

A theological objections to the belief that there is such a person as God come in many varieties. There are, for example, the familiar objections that theism is somehow incoherent, that it is inconsistent with the existence of evil, that it is a hypothesis ill-confirmed or maybe even disconfirmed by the evidence, that modern science has somehow cast doubt upon it, and the like. Another sort of objector claims, not that theism is incoherent or false or probably false (after all, there is precious little by way of cogent argument for that conclusion) but that it is in some way unreasonable or irrational to believe in God, even if that belief should happen to be true. Here we have, as a centerpiece, the evidentialist objection to theistic belief. The claim is that none of the theistic arguments-deductive, inductive, or abductive-is successful; hence there is at best insufficient evidence for the existence of God. But then the belief that there is such a person as God is in some way intellectually improper-somehow foolish or irrational. A person who believed without evidence that there are an even number of ducks would be believing foolishly or irrationally; the same goes for the person who believes in God without evidence. On this view, one who accepts belief in God but has no evidence for that belief is not, intellectually speaking, up to snuff. Among those who have offered this objection are Antony Flew, Brand Blanshard, and Michael Scriven. Perhaps more important is the enormous oral tradition: one finds this objection to theism bruited about on nearly any major university campus in the land.

The objection in question has also been endorsed by Bertrand Russell, who was once asked what he would say if, after dying, he were brought into the presence of God and asked whyhe had not been a believer. Russell’s reply: “I’d say, ‘Not enough evidence, God! Not enough evidence!'” I’m not sure just how that reply would be received; but my point is only that Russell, like many others, has endorsed this evidentialist objection to theistic belief. Now what, precisely, is the objector’s claim here? He holds that the theist without evidence is irrational or unreasonable; what is the property with which he is crediting such a theist when he thus describes him? What, exactly, or even approximately, does he mean when he says that the theist without evidence is irrational? Just what, as he sees it, is the problem with such a theist? The objection can be seen as taking at least two forms; and there are at least two corresponding senses or conceptions of rationality lurking in the nearby bushes. According to the first, a theist who has no evidence has violated an intellectual or cognitive duty of some sort. He has gone contrary to an obligation laid upon him-perhaps by society, or perhaps by his own nature as a creature capable of grasping propositions and holding beliefs. There is an obligation or something like an obligation to proportion one’s beliefs to the strength of the evidence. Thus according to John Locke, a mark of a rational person is “the not entertaining any proposition with greater assurance than the proof it is built upon will warrant,” and according to David Hume, “A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence.” 

In the nineteenth century we have W.K. Clifford, that “delicious enfant terrible” as William James called him, insisting that it is monstrous, immoral, and perhaps even impolite to accept a belief for which you have insufficient evidence:

Whoso would deserve well of his fellow in this matter will guard the purity of his belief with a very fanaticism of jealous care, lest at any time it should rest on an unworthy object, and catch a stain which can never be wiped away.[1] He adds that if a belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind. That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence, which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. [2]
And finally: To sum up: it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.[3] (It is not hard to detect, in these quotations, the “tone of robustious pathos” with which James credits Clifford.) On this view theists without evidence-my sainted grandmother, for example-are flouting their epistemic duties and deserve our disapprobation and disapproval. Mother Teresa, for example, if she has not arguments for her belief in God, then stands revealed as a sort of intellectual libertine-someone who has gone contrary to her intellectual obligations and is deserving of reproof and perhaps even disciplinary action. Now the idea that there are intellectual duties or obligations is difficult but not implausible, and I do not mean to question it here. It is less plausible, however, to suggest that I would or could be going contrary to my intellectual duties in believing, without evidence, that there is such a person as God. For first, my beliefs are not, for the most part, within my control. If, for example, you offer me $1,000,000 to cease believing that Mars is smaller than Venus, there is no way I can collect. But the same holds for my belief in God: even if I wanted to, I couldn’t-short of heroic measures like coma inducing drugs-just divest myself of it. (At any rate there is nothing I can do directly; perhaps there is a sort of regimen that if followed religiously would issue, in the long run, in my no longer accepting belief in God.) But secondly, there seems no reason to think that I have such an obligation. Clearly I am not under an obligation to have evidence for everything I believe; that would not be possible. But why, then, suppose that I have an obligation to accept belief in God only if I accept other propositions which serve as evidence for it? This is by no means self-evident or just obvious, and it is extremely hard to see how to find a cogent argument for it.

In any event, I think the evidentialist objector can take a more promising line. He can hold, not that the theist without evidence has violated some epistemic duty-after all, perhaps he can’t help himself- but that he is somehow intellectually flawed or disfigured. Consider someone who believes that Venus is smaller than Mercury-not because he has evidence, but because he read it in a comic book and always believes whatever he reads in comic books-or consider someone who holds that belief on the basis of an outrageously bad argument. Perhaps there is no obligation he has failed to meet; nevertheless his intellectual condition is defective in some way. He displays a sort of deficiency, a flaw, an intellectual dysfunction of some sort. Perhaps he is like someone who has an astigmatism, or is unduly clumsy, or suffers from arthritis. And perhaps the evidentialist objection is to be construed, not as the claim that the theist without evidence has violated some intellectual obligations, but that he suffers from a certain sort of intellectual deficiency. The theist without evidence, we might say, is an intellectual gimp. Alternatively but similarly, the idea might be that the theist without evidence is under a sort of illusion, a kind of pervasive illusion afflicting the great bulk of mankind over the great bulk of the time thus far allotted to it. Thus Freud saw religious belief as “illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest, and most insistent wishes of mankind.”[4 ]He sees theistic belief as a matter of wish-fulfillment. Men are paralyzed by and appalled at the spectacle of the overwhelming, impersonal forces that control our destiny, but mindlessly take no notice, no account of us and our needs and desires; they therefore invent a heavenly father of cosmic proportions, who exceeds our earthly fathers in goodness and love as much as in power. Religion, says Freud, is the “universal obsessional neurosis of humanity”, and it is destined to disappear when human beings learn to face reality as it is, resisting the tendency to edit it to suit our fancies. A similar sentiment is offered by Karl Marx: Religion . . . is the self-consciousness and the self-feeling of the man who has either not yet found himself, or else (having found himself) has lost himself once more. But man is not an abstract being . . . Man is the world of men, the State, society. This State, this society, produce religion, produce a perverted world consciousness, because they are a perverted world . . . Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the feelings of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of unspiritual conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The people cannot be really happy until it has been deprived of illusory happiness by the abolition of religion. The demand that the people should shake itself free of illusion as to its own condition is the demand that it should abandon a condition which needs illusion.[5] Note that Marx speaks here of a perverted world consciousness produced by a perverted world. This is a perversion from a correct, or right, or natural condition, brought about somehow by an unhealthy and perverted social order. From the Marx-Freud point of view, the theist is subject to a sort of cognitive dysfunction, a certain lack of cognitive and emotional health. We could put this as follows: the theist believes as he does only because of the power of this illusion, this perverted neurotic condition. He is insane, in the etymological sense of that term; he is unhealthy. His cognitive equipment, we might say, isn’t working properly; it isn’t functioning as it ought to. If his cognitive equipment were working properly, working the way it ought to work, he wouldn’t be under the spell of this illusion. He would instead face the world and our place in it with the clear-eyed apprehension that we are alone in it, and that any comfort and help we get will have to be our own devising. There is no Father in heaven to turn to, and no prospect of anything, after death, but dissolution. (“When we die, we rot,” says Michael Scriven, in one of his more memorable lines.) Now of course the theist is likely to display less than overwhelming enthusiasm about the idea that he is suffering from a cognitive deficiency, is under a sort of widespread illusion endemic to the human condition. It is at most a liberal theologian or two, intent on novelty and eager to concede as much as possible to contemporary secularity, who would embrace such an idea. The theist doesn’t see himself as suffering from cognitive deficiency. As a matter of fact, he may be inclined to see the shoe as on the other foot; he may be inclined to think of the atheist as the person who is suffering, in this way, from some illusion, from some noetic defect, from an unhappy, unfortunate, and unnatural condition with deplorable noetic consequences. He will see the atheist as somehow the victim of sin in the world- his own sin or the sin of others. According to the book of Romans, unbelief is a result of sin; it originates in an effort to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” According to John Calvin, God has created us with a nisus or tendency to see His hand in the world around us; a “sense of deity,” he says, “is inscribed in the hearts of all.” He goes on: Indeed, the perversity of the impious, who though they struggle furiously are unable to extricate themselves from the fear of God, is abundant testimony that his conviction, namely, that there is some God, is naturally inborn in all, and is fixed deep within, as it were in the very marrow. . . . From this we conclude that it is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us is master from his mother’s womb and which nature itself permits no man to forget.[6]

Were it not for the existence of sin in the world, says Calvin, human beings would believe in God to the same degree and with the same natural spontaneity displayed in our belief in the existence of other persons, or an external world, or the past. This is the natural human condition; it is because of our presently unnatural sinful condition that many of us find belief in God difficult or absurd. The fact is, Calvin thinks, one who does not believe in God is in an epistemically defective position-rather like someone who does not believe that his wife exists, or thinks that she is a cleverly constructed robot that has no thoughts, feelings, or consciousness. Thus the believer reverses Freud and Marx, claiming that what they see as sickness is really health and what they see as health is really sickness. Obviously enough, the dispute here is ultimately ontological, or theological, or metaphysical; here we see the ontological and ultimately religious roots of epistemological discussions of rationality. What you take to be rational, at least in the sense in question, depends upon your metaphysical and religious stance. It depends upon your philosophical anthropology.

 Your view as to what sort of creature a human being is will determine, in whole or in part, your views as to what is rational or irrational for human beings to believe; this view will determine what you take to be natural, or normal, or healthy, with respect to belief. So the dispute as to who is rational and who is irrational here can’t be settled just by attending to epistemological considerations; it is fundamentally not an epistemological dispute, but an ontological or theological dispute. How can we tell what it is healthy for human beings to believe unless we know or have some idea about what sort of creature a human being is? If you think he is created by God in the image of God, and created with a natural tendency to see God’s hand in the world about us, a natural tendency to recognize that he has been created and is beholden to his creator, owing his worship and allegiance, then of course you will not think of belief in God as a manifestation of wishful thinking or as any kind of defect at all. It is then much more like sense perception or memory, though in some ways much more important. On the other hand, if you think of a human being as the product of blind evolutionary forces, if you think there is no God and that human beings are part of a godless universe, then you will be inclined to accept a view according to which belief in God is a sort of disease or dysfunction, due perhaps, to a sort of softening of the brain.

So the dispute as to who is healthy and who diseased has ontological or theological roots, and is finally to be settled, if at all at that level. And here I would like to present a consideration that, I think tells in favor of the theistic way of looking at the matter. As I have been representing that matter, theist and atheist alike speak of a sort of dysfunction, of cognitive faculties or cognitive equipment not working properly, of their not working as they ought to. But how are we to understand that? What is it for something to work properly? Isn’t there something deeply problematic about the idea of proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is it for a natural organism-a tree, for example-to be in good working order, to be functioning properly? Isn’t working properly relative to our aims and interests? A cow is functioning properly when she gives milk; a garden patch is as it ought to be when it displays a luxuriant preponderance of the sorts of vegetation we propose to promote. But then it seems patent that what constitutes proper functioning depends upon our aims and interests. So far as nature herself goes, isn’t a fish decomposing in a hill of corn functioning just as properly, just as excellently, as one happily swimming about chasing minnows? But then what could be meant by speaking of “proper functioning” with respect to our cognitive faculties? A chunk of reality-an organism, a part of an organism, an ecosystem, a garden patch-“functions properly” only with respect to a sort of grid we impose on nature-a grid that incorporates our aims and desires. But from a theistic point of view, the idea of proper functioning, as applied to us and our cognitive equipment, is not more problematic than, say, that of a Boeing 747’s working properly. Something we have constructed-a heating system, a rope, a linear accelerator-is functioning properly when it is functioning in the way it was designed to function. My car works properly if it works the way it was designed to work. My refrigerator is working properly if it refrigerates, if it does what a refrigerator is designed to do.

This, I think, is the root idea of working properly. But according to theism, human beings, like ropes and linear accelerators, have been designed; they have been created and designed by God. Thus, he has an easy answer to the relevant set of questions: What is proper functioning? What is it for my cognitive faculties to be working properly? What is cognitive dysfunction? What is it to function naturally? My cognitive faculties are functioning naturally, when they are functioning in the way God designed them to function. On the other hand, if the atheological evidentialist objector claims that the theist without evidence is irrational, and if he goes on to construe irrationality in terms of defect or dysfunction, then he owes us an account of this notion. Why does he take it that the theist is somehow dysfunctional, at least in this area of his life?

More importantly, how does he conceive dysfunction? How does he see dysfunction and its opposite? How does he explain the idea of an organism’s working properly, or of some organic system or part of an organism’s thus working? What account does he give of it? Presumably he can’t see the proper functioning of my noetic equipment as its functioning in the way it was designed to function; so how can he put it? Two possibilities leap to mind. First, he may be thinking of proper functioning as functioning in a way that helps us attain our ends. In this way, he may say, we think of our bodies as functioning properly, as being healthy, when they function in the way we want them to, when they function in such a way as to enable us to do the sorts of things we want to do. But of course this will not be a promising line to take in the present context; for while perhaps the atheological objector would prefer to see our cognitive faculties function in such a way as not to produce belief in God in us, the same cannot be said, naturally enough, for the theist. Taken this way the atheological evidentialist’s objection comes to little more than the suggestion that the atheologician would prefer it if people did not believe in God without evidence. That would be an autobiographical remark on his part, having the interest such remarks usually have in philosophical contexts.  A second possibility: proper functioning and allied notions are to be explained in terms of aptness for promoting survival, either at an individual or species level.

There isn’t time to say much about this here; but it is at least and immediately evident that the atheological objector would then owe us an argument for the conclusion that belief in God is indeed less likely to contribute to our individual survival, or the survival of our species than is atheism or agnosticism. But how could such an argument go? Surely the prospects for a non-question begging argument of this sort are bleak indeed. For if theism-Christian theism, for example-is true, then it seems wholly implausible to think that widespread atheism, for example, would be more likely to contribute to the survival of our race than widespread theism.  By way of conclusion: a natural way to understand such notions as rationality and irrationality is in terms of the proper functioning of the relevant cognitive equipment. Seen from this perspective, the question whether it is rational to believe in God without the evidential support of other propositions is really a metaphysical or theological dispute. The theist has an easy time explaining the notion of our cognitive equipment’s functioning properly: our cognitive equipment functions properly when it functions in the way God designed it to function. The atheist evidential objector, however, owes us an account of this notion. What does he mean when he complains that the theist without evidence displays a cognitive defect of some sort? How does he understand the notion of cognitive malfunction?   





[1]W.K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief,” in Lectures and Essays (London: Macmillan, 1879), p. 183.

[2]Ibid, p. 184.

[3]Ibid, p. 186.

[4]Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (New York: Norton, 1961), p. 30.

[5]K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, vol. 3: Introduction to a Critique of the Hegelian Philosophy of Right, by Karl Marx (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975). 

[6]John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 1.3 (p. 43- 44).  

Social Theories

According to Bessant and Watts (1999: 20): “A key sign of the magnitude of the changes in that first Great Transformation [industrial revolution] is found in the ways people continued talking about the experience of loss, ‘the world we have lost’. Phrases like ‘the death of God’, ‘demise of the family, and the ‘loss of community’ reflect the long-standing feelings of bereavement and loss that accompanied the modernising experience.” We, today, are undergoing a change of a similar magnitude when one takes account of commoditisation of information, and to some extent, knowledge. To understand what happened in the past, I thought the following would be a good introductory article.


Social Continuity and Change, and Social Theory

by Christine Preston (Nagle College)
for Society and Culture Inservice, 12th August 2000


I will begin by defining social and cultural continuity and change. The term ‘social change’ is a term used within sociology and applies to modifications in social relationships or culture (the term ‘cultural change’ is the term used within anthropology). Since society and culture are interdependent, ‘sociocultural change’ is a more accepted term. The study of sociocultural change is the systematic study of variation in social and cultural ‘systems’. There are inherent methodological problems of identification and measurement of change, and rarely does one cause produce one effect. All societies are involved in a process of social change, however, this change may be so incremental that the members of the society are hardly aware of it. People living in very traditional societies would be in this category. Societies are characterised by change: the rate of change, the processes of change, and the directions of change.

The actions of individuals, organisations and social movements have an impact on society and may become the catalyst for social change. The actions of individuals, however, occur within the context of culture, institutions and power structures inherited from the past, and usually, for these individuals to effect dramatic social change, the society itself is tripe’ for change.

Broad social trends, for example, shifts in population, urbanisation, industrialisation and bureaucratisation, can lead to significant social change. In the past, this has been associated with modernisation, the process whereby a society moves from traditional, less developed modes of production (like small-scale agriculture) to technologically advanced industrial modes of production. Trends like population growth and urbanisation have a significant impact on other aspects of society, like social structure, institutions and culture. Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century social theorists focused fairly extensively on modernisation, but they tended to present on oversimplified “grand narrative” which resulted from heavily ideological interpretations of the contrast between tradition and modernisation. They also attempted to externalise absolutes, “social laws” as they saw them, and they argued that these social laws were operative in structurally similar societies.

Social continuity cannot simply be defined as the absence of social change, that is, things remaining the same, because social change is a continual process in all societies. Nothing “remains the same”. However, within societies there are structures which are inherently resistant to change, and in this sense, we can talk about them as being social continuities. Individuals within societies need social continuities to a lesser or greater extent, depending on significant factors like age, gender, education, access to power, wealth, vested interest, etc. Even “rock-solid” institutions like the family, the law, and religions are subject to change, even though they represent social continuity. There has always been ‘family’ and it is still the foundational institution for society and the primary agent of socialisation, however the composition of ‘family’ has changed in recent years, leading to different kinds of families and different socialisation experiences for their members. The same ideas can be applied to law and religion.

Social and cultural continuities can be likened to individuals’ habits – comfortable patterns of behaviour that give individuals a sense of security and personal control – a haven or a respite in a sea of social and cultural change. There is a high correlation between the rate of social and cultural change and resistance to that change. In times when members of a society feel that change is ‘out of control’, it is likely that the desire for continuity becomes more extreme, resulting in backward-looking idealisations of the past.

While social change is itself a continuity, certain periods of human history have created “great transformations” (Polanyi 1973). The Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution created one such Great Transformation. Polanyi saw it as beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries and continuing today, characterised by:

• the rise of a capitalist, global economy and growth in production and wealth
• a ‘scientific revolution’ – new ways of thinking about causation, moving from religious to secular
• a new concept of time
population growth, immigration and urbanisation
a political move to ‘nation’, which involved governments expanding their control to social, economic and cultural life, followed by the extension of that control to other, less advanced” countries (colonialism/imperialism) either through military
conquest or trade conquest and today, perhaps, characterised by conquest
through communication (eg. the Americanisation or westernisation of culture).
According to Bessant and Watts (1999: 20):

“A key sign of the magnitude of the changes in that first Great Transformation is found in the ways people continued talking about the experience of loss, ‘the world we have lost’. Phrases like ‘the death of God’, ‘demise of the family, and the ‘loss of community’ reflect the long-standing feelings of bereavement and loss that accompanied the modernising experience.

Polanyi would argue that similar feelings of loss and bereavement are expressed, in similar terms, today in our post-modern society where rapid, often dramatic change has become almost the norm.

Although many individuals, for example, Marx, Toennies, Comte and Spencer developed different versions of what Comte called ‘sociology’, the ‘science of society’, it wasn’t until the late 1 9th century that sociology was established as an academic discipline. Social theories came out of this ‘new’ discipline, as attempts to explain, or account for, social change. Social theories were, and still are today, products of their times and are characterised to a greater or lesser extent by the prevailing views and ideologies of their eras. When studying social theories, and using one or more of them in an attempt to explain social and cultural change, it is important to recognise this fact about them and to be conscious, if not critical, of the biases, values and assumptions inherent in them.
Sociological theory can be roughly divided into periods during which different schools of theoretical thought tended to be dominant:

• from the late Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century until the 1 92Os, while Sociology was establishing itself as an academic discipline in Its own right (there was, at the same time, a development of Anthropology) ‘Social Darwinism’, early evolutionary theory, which was functionalist in its perspective, was a dominant school of thought
• the 1940s -1960s was the era of ‘Structural Functionalism’ (Parsons, Spencer,
Durkheim and Comte)
• by the mid-1 960s (1 960s – 1 980s), Marxism, Weberian sociology, Feminism and
Symbolic Interactionism were dominant
• most recently, Post-Modernism (also called Post-Structuralism) has tended to dominate sociological thinking.
This division isn’t absolute in that different schools of sociological thought agreed with,
disagreed with, borrowed and rejected aspects of each other’s premises. Even within the
different schools of thought, there is acceptance and rejection of other proponents’ ideas.

An Overview of Some Social Theories

Early Evolutionary Theory This theory of social change was based on the assumption that all societies develop from simple, ‘small-scale’ beginnings into more complex industrial and post-industrial societies. This development process was thought to be unilinear, that is, there was one line of development from simple to complex. It also assumed that the changes inherent in this development were all ‘progress’. This theory emerged around the time Charles Darwin was publishing his theories on the origin of species; that biological species evolved from the simple to the complex and that there was ‘survival of the fittest’. Evolutionary theorists applied these ideas to societies – a concept which fitted very comfortably with this colonial era when Britain and other colonising countries were heavily involved in bringing their “superior” advanced form of society to more “primitive” societies, in exchange for their raw materials, trade goods, etc. Ethnocentrism was rife during this period and early Evolutionary theorists reflected the prevailing ideology, legitimising, through their theoretical explanation of social change, the political and economic ambitions of the colonial powers. Early evolutionary theory described change, rather than explained it and ignored the many patterns of development which were occurring – which were, in reality, as diverse as the countries themselves.

While Early Evolutionary Theory became discredited once anthropological data was published describing the diversity of change in modernising societies, Modern Evolutionary Theory still exists. This more updated version sees sociocultural evolution as the tendency for social structures to become more complex over time. It also acknowledges that this process in multilinear and that change occurs in different ways and at different rates. Modem Evolutionary Theory concedes that change is not always necessarily progress, and that it will not inevitably produce greater happiness for all the people concerned. Unlike Early Evolutionary Theory, Modern Evolutionary Theory does attempt to explain change, arguing that the main source of change is a shift in subsistence/production, each change resulting in greater productivity, which in turn leads to greater economic surplus and thus more distributable wealth. This leads to improved living standards, population growth, cultural diversity and further development.

Functionalist Theory (often called Structural Functionalism)

Functionalist theory assumes, on the whole, that as societies develop, they become increasingly more complex and interdependent. Functionalist theory emphasizes social order rather than social change. Talcott Parsons viewed society as consisting of interdependent parts which work together to maintain the equilibrium of the whole, rather like the human body with its interdependent organs working for the health of the entire organism. Key concepts of this theory are those of differentiation and integration. Differentiation occurs as society becomes more complex but the new institutions must be integrated with each other into the whole. In other words, change occurs (differentiation of institutions, for example, to take over functions of previously non-differentiated institutions) but structures within society change or emerge to compensate. The new structures are integrated to ensure the smooth functioning of society. Social order requires that members of society work towards achieving order and stability within the society and Functionalist Theory asserts that this is the most desirable social state for people. The assumptions are:

• all members accept their roles
o all members accept the moral values of their society
• ‘social order’ is achieved through complex processes of socialisation, education and sanctions
• history is seen as a series of phases through which societies progress. Each phase is characterized by an increase in rationality
• ‘social facts’ can be studied as ‘objective facts’ or ‘social laws’

Limitations of this theory are that it really only attempts to explain institutional change. During the decades of the 1940s and 1950s, which were relatively placid, the functionalist view of society as a balanced system that integrated small but necessary changes was quite consistent with the times. However this social theory quickly lost credibility because it proved inadequate to explain the rapid upheaval and social unrest of the late 50s and 60s. Like Early Evolutionary theory, it assumes that change is progress, although there are disagreements between Functionalist theorists.

Conflict Theory – Marxism (Marx and Engels)

Marxism also saw itself as offering a ‘scientific account’ of change but, in opposition to Functionalism, this focused on the premise that radical change was inevitable in society. Marxism argued that the potential for change was built into the basic structures of society, the relationships between social classes, which Marx saw as being intrinsic to the social relations of production. According to Marx, eventually society reaches a point where its own organization creates a barrier to further economic growth and at that point, crisis precipitates a revolutionary transformation of the society, for example, from feudalism to capitalism, or from capitalism to socialism. Marxists believed that social order was maintained through socialisation, education and ideology. Thus control is maintained to suit the vested interests of powerful groups and as the interests of these groups change, so does society. Change is therefore ongoing until crisis point is reached and transformation occurs. While Marx focused on class conflict specifically, modem conflict theorists have broadened their explanation of change to social conflict generally. While Conflict Theory is useful in explaining significant events in history and ongoing changing patterns of race and gender relations, it struggles to adequately explain the dramatic impact of technological development on society or the changes to family organisation.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic Interactionism developed as an alternative to Functicnalism, emphasising that social interaction is symbolic in nature and that social reality is constructed by the people
participating in it, rather than by ‘external laws’ (Herbert Blumer; Peter Berger). This concept follows the Weberian premise that ‘social reality’ is different from ‘natural reality’ because it is symbolic and socially constructed. Because Structural Interactionism sees social reality as neither objective nor external (as the natural world is) they reject the idea that social reality is objective and needs to be studied as such. Symbolic Interactionists argue that people give meaning to events and objects and that those people agree about these meanings. It becomes irrelevant what is ‘really’ happening, because the participants are engaged in interpretive processes and it is these that shape their perceptions of the world. (Participant Observation is a favourite research method of Symbolic Interactionists.)

Post-Modernist Social Theory (also called Post-Structuralism)

Post-Modernism argues that both social reality and knowledge is socially constructed. Post-Modernism rejects ‘general’ or overarching explanations of change, which rely on the premise of a single total social system or assumptions about class or gender power. PostModernists see power as dispersed and localised, rather than hierarchical and directed from the top down. For Post-Modernists, there are many ‘knowledges’ and ‘ways of knowing’, multiple sets of moral rules and ethics, which people in society tap into at their local level. Authority structures may attempt to assert their knowledge and way of doing things) but they do this, not from any intellectual or moral authority, but through political strategies of coercion (ridicule, exclusion), leading to the use of their definition of ‘normal’ to define what is ‘abnormal’. At the micro-level, the out-group is defined by definition of the in-group. Micropower is located within institutions, which use language and practices to control people. Post-Modernists view society, therefore, not as a total system but as an aggregation of fragments. They see post-modern society as the next phase after modern, post-industrial society, so in this sense Post-Modernists are viewing social change in terms of stages that societies go through. In terms of social theory, they confine their analysis to post-industrial societies and rarely attempt to analyse the whole of society, preferring to focus on its component parts, such as institutions like the family, prisons, hospitals etc.

Recent social theorists, for example, Anthony Giddens (1990), see a crucial distinction between pre-modern and modern societies based on our dependence on increasingly complex and extended social relationships. These rely on ‘expert systems’ with which we have no face-to-face relationship. In the past, people relied on, or were dependent on, the people with whom they had the closest relationships, for example, spouses, family etc. In modern society, we are increasingly becoming independent within traditional relationships (for example, women pursuing a career path concurrently with their husbands) while becoming increasingly dependent on people with whom we have no relationship (for example, when we catch a plane, we are dependent on the ‘expertise’ of pilots, ground crews, traffic controllers etc.)

[Other Social Theories]

Other recent social theory especially the discussion coming out of America, focuses on forms of collective behaviour as a force for change. While this discussion isn’t necessarily formalised as social theory, it is perhaps worthwhile to look at the role of social movements in the change process. For this purpose, “social movement” is defined as a large number of people who come together as part of an organised effort to bring about, or resist, social change. Institutionalised forms of political action are usually important to these groups in the achievement of their goals. There are several types of these movements, ranging from Reformist or Revolutionary groups, through to Reactionary movements (resisting change rather than working towards change). Study of social movements has ranged from micro-level studies, which examine the motives and aspirations of individuals within these movements, to organisational-level studies. Resource Mobilisation Theory argues that a social movement cannot be sustained simply by discontent with existing structures. The social movement must manipulate discontent and efficiently manage it through the aggregation and distribution of resources (money and labour). For a social movement to succeed, there must be an adequate resource base. This can come from participants directly or ‘sponsors’- people or groups outside the social movement who may be sympathetic to the ’cause’ (conscience supporters), share common goals with the social group, or have a vested interest in the social movement’s success. The social movement must have organisers who can garner this resource support and organise the participants and their activities, utilising existing social infrastructure to achieve the goals of the movement. Resource Mobilisation Theory emphasises the interaction between resource availability, the goal preferences of the movement and the entrepreneurial activities of the organisers in mobilising participants and supporters.

A central fact of recent social theory is the movement away from overarching, ‘grand’ theory towards the partial, the fragmented. It has been, and still is, problematic to try and construct theories which attempt to explain everything – the relationship between social change and all aspects of society. The ‘grand theories’ of the past arose out of the ideologies of their periods – it may be said in the future that ‘fragmentation’ theories like Post-Modernism have come out of what is increasingly becoming the ‘me’ era. Social theories aren’t instruments or tools by which people can examine societies and cultures; they are themselves ‘culture’, the products of the life experiences and locations and cultural milieu of their proponents. They rely on perspectives, they are open-ended; they are metaphors for societies (Beilharz: 1992). Nevertheless, social theory is important because it attempts to address the human condition in change. Theories generalise, but this does not mean that they should totalise or systematise. Social theory offers a way of operating in the world, helping us clarify norms and values, political and economic understanding and the relationships of these things.



Beilharz, P. (ed.): Social Theory Guide to Central Thinkers Allen & Unwin, NSW, 1892
Bessant, J. ~ Watts, R.: Sociology Australia Allen & Unwin, NSW 1999
Giddens, A: The Consequences of Modernity Polity Press, Cambridge, 1 990
Polanyi, K.: The Great Transformation Octagon Books, New York, 1973

A Problem for Goldman on Rationality

A Problem for Goldman on Rationality
Francis Jeffry Pelletier
Department of Philosophy
University of Alberta 

The central concern of Knowledge in a Social World is to restore the notion of Truth to the rightful place of glory that it had before the onslaught of those pragmatic, cultural-studying, social constructing, critical legalistic and feministic postmodernists (PoMo’s, for short). As G sees it, these PoMo’s have never put forward any “real” arguments for their veriphobia; and, well, how could they, since their position is committed to the “denial of Truth” and hence committed to denying that there is any such thing as a valid or a sound argument. Instead, according to G, they have artfully inculcated various types of considerations so that a defender of Truth now must swim against the entire flow of academe to even stand a chance of making his or her voice heard.

G finds six overlapping currents in this wash of anti-veritas ideas, listing them in his §1.3 and devoting a further section to each of them in turn (§1.4–§1.9). These currents spring up in various later parts of the book for further discussion, but even in these places G refers the reader back to the material in Chapter 1 as refuting them. (Insofar as a current that is not based on any consideration of Truth, validity, or soundness is susceptible of refutation.) I think it is fair to say that G does not really intend that his comments about the anti-veritas ideas will be taken as definitive by the veriphobes, but rather that he believes the strength of his positive account in the rest of the book (which accords Truth a central role) will sway all neutral readers into a belief of the usefulness of Truth in an account of social knowledge. Still, I think many readers…even veriphiles…will find the considerations that G brings against the six currents to be disappointingly short.

I want to consider some of the currents in the stream of PoMo ideas. As I said, G’s six currents overlap at various points, and each of the currents has sub-flows. This means that we might put together sub-flows from different currents in such a way as to find a somewhat different current in the PoMo stream than was found by G. To lay my cards on the table at the outset: I am a veriphile, I am an anti-PoMo, I am a believer in individual epistemology and hold that social epistemology is entirely reducible without remainder to the knowledge of individuals. Except possibly for this last point I am in agreement with G. My task in this short commentary should be seen as trying to bolster one small part of his overall position by making one PoMo consideration as strong as possible and asking G to show that it still fails. Of course, no answer of G’s will convince a PoMo because they do not think that considerations of truth, validity, consistency, and the like are relevant to what should be believed. But perhaps it will help with a few of G’s neutral readers.  

The Argument from Bias:
PoMo’s in general, at least in the version given by G, deny the reality of rationality. The various currents that G identifies all have the goal of relegating the desire for Truth and the desire for the search for Truth into the backwaters of human endeavor. The underlying message one gathers from G’s presentation is that PoMo’s not only deny that there is any such thing as Truth but additionally they attribute any belief in it either to ignorance or to sinister motives. The sixth of the PoMo currents detected by G is that

Truth cannot be attained because all putatively truth-oriented practices are corrupted and biased by politics or self-serving interests.

G’s rebuttal of this current in PoMo thought is simple: he claims that it depends on two very implausible assumptions, namely (a) that all belief is driven by motivational biases, and (b) that these biases are in conflict with the Truth. G claims that (a) is wrong, in general, because one does not have the voluntary choice to believe or disbelieve something and hence it cannot be due to motivational biases. He claims that (b) is wrong because it is simply not true that knowing the truth runs generally against one’s interests (although speaking the truth might run against one’s interests).

In §1.9, where this argument is discussed, there is very little more said about either it or about these two assumptions, except for a discussion of the role of case studies in the history of science. His analysis of the issue in this section of the book is that all the plausibility of The Argument from Bias comes from its application to political discussion, where a conflict might be seen between one’s interests and speaking the truth. But, G continues, such a generalization is not correct for knowledge and truth in general. There are, of course, researchers who think that case studies in the history of science show that “any theory can always be retained as long as its defenders have enough institutional power to explain away potential threats to it”. In his discussion of these case studies, G acknowledges that politics and interests have played a crucial role in the development and acceptance of scientific ideas–something no one has ever questioned–but he denies that this is at all relevant to the issue of Truth. To be relevant, he says, would require that politics and interests were causally efficacious for the scientific beliefs and not merely temporally coincident with them. And this would require establishing the counterfactual thesis that the beliefs would not have occurred had the politics or interests of the situation been different. G denies that the case studies have ever established this. And anyway, even if it could be established, this wouldn’t be enough to show that the acceptance of these ideas–especially over a long period of time–stemmed from these same motivations.

This last item, that long-term acceptance is independent of motivational bias, is a theme that I believe G should have emphasized more. My view of long-term acceptance is like the following, and although I believe this is in accord with G’s general position, I wish he had more explicitly addressed the issue. Imagine a flat plane upon which various theses about the world are inscribed. Imagine further that the choice of which of these theses are accepted by an individual (or group of people) is indicated by the position of a marble (or all of the group’s individual marbles) on this plane. Certain factors deform the plane: sometimes a heavy weight is placed at a location, making that point lower and the marbles more likely to roll to that place; or maybe the plane is forced upwards at some location and the marbles tend to roll away from that location. A person’s (or group’s) beliefs over time are rather like rolling the marble from one point on the plane to see where it will eventually end up…perhaps with the occasional shake of the plane to represent violent new starts. My view is that individual’s motivational biases are best represented as weights (“attractors”) on this plane that make the marbles tend to roll towards them. And there perhaps are other motivational features that function as “repellors”. The individual’s marble will roll towards the attractors and away from the repellors, as will the group of marbles representing the group or social beliefs. But as I see it, the greatest attractor is Truth; and after a sufficiently long time all (or close to all) the marbles will end up in the deformity caused by the great weight of Truth. The marbles will have escaped from all the minor attractors and repellors, and will have been drawn toward the Truth.

Of course, the world of beliefs is not really a plane with various theses inscribed at different locations, and biases and the Truth are not really heavy weights placed on the plane to deform it into the third dimension. No: the world of beliefs is really a high-dimensional hyperplane and biases and the Truth are really attractors/repellors that deform the hyperplane in a higher dimension. However, our beliefs, especially our beliefs over time, are just marbles that roll around in this hyperplane and are attracted/repelled by these various forces. But again, the factor that accounts for the majority of the effect is the super-attractor, Truth.

 G continues his discussion of the PoMo current which uses The Argument from Bias in his Chapter 8, and devotes §8.3 to a further rebuttal. In this Section, G concentrates on specific biases that might be mentioned by PoMo’s (although I think they never have been) but which have been the subject of a dispute in Cognitive Science, concerning the nature of rationality and what it means to be rational.

Biases of the sort that affect one’s acceptance or rejection of “factually-oriented” statements come in two flavors: hot and cold. The hot biases are the ones caused by emotions, desires, special interests that “blind” one to “the facts”, and the like. Such a bias will make one believe that one’s spouse is faithful, despite all the clear evidence to the contrary; they will make one “refuse to even consider” the benefits of gun registration, and the like. But it is not these hot biases that I wish to consider here; instead, cold biases are those which are due to the inbuilt mechanisms of human cognitive functioning. Thus, even in cases where one is attempting to “dispassionately investigate” some phenomenon, one’s inbuilt cold biases may lead one to “false” answers. PoMo’s could use this fact (if it is a fact) to argue that the notion of Truth is inevitably bound to be dependent on these cold biases and to have no independent use or validity. So far as I know, this exploitation of cold biases has not been followed up on by PoMo’s, but it is clear that it could be, possibly with even more plausibility than their employment of the similar case of hot biases. After all, with hot biases we want to say that they can be overcome by “cooling down” or “stepping back” and letting one’s underlying rationality come to the fore. But cold biases offer no such method, for the biases are built into the very structure of our rational nature.

Long ago it was discovered that many (most) people are “remarkably bad” at simple logic problems and that they similarly are “distressingly unable” to perform even the most simple tasks of estimating probabilities. Although such a discovery comes as no surprise to teachers of elementary logic and elementary probability theory, the detailed psychological study of this “shortcoming” took off in the deductive logic realm with the publication of Wason (1966) and in the probabilistic reasoning realm with the works of Kahneman & Tversky (there have many joint works, see Nisbett & Ross 1980 or Evans 1987 for summaries). In 1981 Cohen challenged these findings partially on the grounds that rationality was defined to be what people’s reasoning competence allows them to do. Therefore, he concluded, it cannot be true that people are “systematically biased”. Members of this “optimistic camp” (optimistic because they believe that people are inherently rational) have since that time been engaged in the exercise of explaining how the original experiments are in some way wrong. G is a member of this optimistic camp, and he employs some of the standard “explanations” with an eye to showing that the PoMo’s are wrong in their appeal to this sort of bias as a justification of denying Truth. His general conclusion is that cold biases (a) do not happen as often as PoMo’s would require, nor (b) are they necessarily detrimental to the use of Truth when they occur.

Here is a cross-section of the optimistic suggestions concerning how and why optimists think the alleged biases do not really count against rationality as a route to Truth. We’ll see that all of them, including the one advocated by G, are variations on the same theme; and I will indicate why I think this reply to PoMo’s just can’t be successful. Cohen (1981) postulated that the probabilistic reasoning that was actually demonstrated by subjects – the “bad reasoning” which Kahneman & Tversky had uncovered – was in fact the correct way to reason. This way of reasoning was formalized as a “Baconian probability calculus” which Cohen then put forward as the correct way to reason probabilistically (as opposed to the Baysean calculus that was assumed by Kahneman & Tversky when they made their judgment that people were inherently biased). A variant on this sort of position is taken by Gigerenzer (see for example his 1991, 1994, 1998). Gigerenzer believes that the flaw in the Kahneman & Tversky experiments was that they were trying to get subjects to give the probability of single events (such as the probability that Linda is a feminist bankteller) instead of the frequency of a type of event happening within a larger space of events. In a series of very compelling experiments Gigerenzer has shown how to make (most) of the alleged biases disappear by suitably rephrasing the experiments in terms of frequency judgments instead of single-event probabilities. The difference between Cohen’s and Gigerenzer’s strategies is that Cohen wanted to do a wholesale replacement of Baysean probability theory, whereas Gigerenzer agrees with the predictions of Baysean theory in those cases where there is a frequency interpretation of the case. He only disagrees with a certain portion of Baysean theory, viz., the probability of single events; and his claim is (a) that in the good portion of Baysean theory (where there are no single-event probabilities) people will agree with Baysean theory if the material is presented to them in a frequency manner, (b) even in the bad portion of Baysean theory, if the problem can somehow be rephrased as a frequency problem then people will agree with the Baysean answer, and (c) all the remaining cases are those where subjects are asked to find the probability of a single event and this is simply not a well-defined notion (so it is not surprising that subjects cannot do it coherently). Like Cohen, Gigerenzer is challenging Bayseanism as being the normatively correct theory of probability.

In the realm of deductive reasoning a similar battle is being waged. Wason’s (1966) results show that subjects do not follow classical logic in their assessment of simple reasoning involving conditionals and negations. So far as I am aware no one has really taken up the type of answer that Cohen gave for the probabilistic reasoning case – to construct a new deductive logic that obeys the results obtained in the experiments and claim that this is the normatively correct logic. (Although there have been some mutterings about “fuzzy logic”, “relevant logic”, and the like.) Instead, the main force in the literature has been more akin to Gigerenzer’s strategy: find particular types of problems that subjects can perform well on (well, as measured by classical logic) and then claim that this is the normatively correct notion of (deductive) rationality. The types of problems that people do not perform well are then relegated to the realm of “not well-defined problems”, much as the probability of single events is disparaged by Gigerenzer. In the deductive realm this course is championed most feverently by Cosmides (1989, see also Cosmides & Tooby 1987, 1994). Her claim is that people can perform well on the Wason task so long as the logic problems ask about “social interactions”, particularly about whether some “cheating” is going on. If we give people this problem:

From “No one who has not paid their dues can enter the meeting-house” and “Joe is allowed to enter the meeting-house” can we infer “Joe has paid his dues”?

then everyone will correctly answer “yes”. Yet, if the question is put:

From “No non-F’s are G’s” and “a is a G” can we infer “a is an F”?

we find that most people will answer this incorrectly (according to classical logic). Cosmides’ position is, like Gigerenzer’s, that these “abstract” questions simply do not have any “rational” answer, because the notion of (deductive) logical rationality is only defined for problems of the “cheating detection” variety. (And she has an evolutionary-psychology justification for this.) The background logic of her theory agrees with classical logic in those cases where it is defined. But there are other cases where it is not defined and people’s performance on these cases cannot be used to argue for or against human rationality.

According both to Gigerenzer and Cosmides, (a) there is an objective normative standard in the fields of probabilistic and deductive reasoning, and (b) people’s underlying rational competence matches this standard. The (a) aspect reiterates their commitment to veritism and the (b) aspect demonstrates their commitment to optimism. And it is to this picture that G cleaves. But can it really be used as an argument against the PoMo current about biases? It seems to me to have at least the following problem. The main idea of Gigerenzer and Cosmides is to presuppose the existence of objective rational standards, and then to use human performance to show the restrictions on the scope of these standards. It is true, they say, that people do not perform logical operations in accordance with the dictates of classical logic (e.g., they misapply contraposition when problems are presented in “abstract formats”) nor do the perform appropriate estimations of probabilities in accordance with Baysean theory (e.g., they misapply information about “base rates” if the information is given to them as a probability rather than a frequency). But this does not show that there are biases, they say; for the correct conclusion is to deny that human rationality extends to these cases. (Such cases are instead seen as some sort of “theoretical extension” of the basic theory of human rationality in the same way that imaginary numbers constitutes a theoretical extension to the ordinary notion of number.)

I do not see how adopting the Gigerenzer/Cosmides viewpoint can serve as an argument against PoMo. For, the main idea of Gigerenzer/Cosmides is to presuppose there to be Truth and to then use this to show the reach of human rationality, whereas the PoMos are using biases to show the non-existence of Truth. As an analogy, consider arguing with someone who claims that everyone believes in a supreme being. You proceed by pointing to those who have denied believing and have said so in their writings; and you might even point to yourself. But just when you think the opponent is bound to give in (after all…who better than you to know whether you believe in a supreme being?), s/he takes the “whatever you hold to be most important–that’s what you hold to be a supreme being” move. And just as we find this an intellectually unsatisfying maneuver, so too should PoMo’s find unsatisfying G’s definition (or the Gigerenzer/Cosmides definition) of  ‘rationality’ as whatever aspect of performance agrees with some pre-given normative standards. After all, PoMo’s have not yet even admitted there to be any such normative standards. I would like to see G address the “pure issue” of the possibility of (cold) biases making it impossible ever to know whether Truth has been attained without presupposing the existence of Truth. G recognizes, p. 234, that he has “not refuted the heuristics-and-biases approach root and branch.” But I would say that even if he could refute the Wason/Kahneman/Tversky tradition, his methodology presumes that there is a normative standard of Truth, and therefore this refutation would not (should not!) dissuade the PoMo’s.  

The Denial of Epistemic Privilege
 Another current G finds in the PoMo river is the denial of epistemic privilege:

There are no privileged epistemic positions, and no certain foundations for beliefs. All claims are judged by conventions or language games, which have no deeper grounding. There are no neutral, transcultural standards for settling disagreements.

Having introduced my main worry with this aspect of G’s work, let me carry it a bit further into this other current of PoMo thought. In §1.7, where this current is considered, G spends much of his time discussing Rorty’s (1979) arguments against “privileged representations”, rightly remarking that even if Rorty’s claims here were right they would not tell against any of the other versions of epistemology on the market, especially G’s own “reliabilism”. A second sub-flow of this current concerns the idea that claims are always judged by conventions, perhaps the conventions that are part of the “language game” being played by the agents or by the agreement of others in the culture. It would follow from this that there can be no independently-justified cross-cultural standards. Once again G is swift in his dismissal of the claim (p. 29)

Careful reflection on judgments of justification suggests–as reliabilism maintains–that a belief is considered justified if it is arrived at by processes or practices that the speaker (or the community) regards as truth conducive. …Thus, judgments of justification are not without grounding, nor are they purely conventional. They are grounded precisely on appeals to truth conduciveness. Furthermore, there seems to be nothing arbitrary in a concept of justification tied to truth conduciveness.

The reason there is “nothing arbitrary” in this is that “people have an interest in truth” and those beliefs “formed by truth-conducive processes are more likely to be true.” A final sub-flow of this current concerns the notion of “agreement”. G thinks that PoMo’s believe that veriphiles require agreement for their notion of rational justification. G also thinks that PoMo’s believe such agreement to be impossible because they also believe there to be no transcultural principles for settling disagreements among different communities. G tries to calm this sub-flow by distinguishing the “ultimate aim” of epistemic practices from the specific methods adopted in pursuit of these aims. He claims that it has always been the pursuit of Truth that different cultures have aimed at, although these different cultures adopt many, many different and radically opposed methods in their pursuit of Truth.

Here’s a problem for this picture. I might also mention that it is a problem for my view that I expressed as the simile of marbles rolling on a plane. Both G’s view and the one I mentioned require that Truth be a causal factor. We have just seen that G makes Truth be the cause of a pursuit by people of any culture at all; and in my simile, Truth played the role of deforming the plane so that the marbles representing people’s beliefs would ultimately roll toward that place on the plane. In my picture I also had the biases and motivations be deforming features of the plane. Now, it’s pretty clear how biases and other motivations can be causally efficacious in producing belief. But the same cannot be said about Truth. It is, I think we would all agree, a non-natural property. It certainly is not a property that can easily be thought as exerting some mysterious force that attracts people’s mental states. Indeed, it seems to be qualitatively or categorially the wrong sort of property to do this. It is one thing to say that the cause for 82% of the people asked thinking that Linda is more likely to be a feminist bankteller than to be a bankteller is due to some mental short-circuit or bias to ignore conjunctions (or whatever). But what will then be the cause for the other 18%? Don’t we need some explanation on the same “level” as bias to explain their performance? How can we just simply appeal to the truth of the matter as the operative causal factor? (This is an adaptation of the “strong programme” requirement of symmetry of explanation–see Barnes & Bloor 1982 for further explanation. Although G mentions Barnes, Bloor, and Barnes & Bloor, he does not discuss this aspect of the strong programme.)

I would be very grateful to G if he could give a convincing answer to this problem.   
Barnes, B. & D. Bloor (1982) “Relativism, Rationalism, and the Sociology of Knowledge” in M. Hollis & S. Lukes (eds.) Rationality and Relativism (Cambridge: MIT Press) pp. 21-47.
Cohen, L.J. (1981) “Can Human Irrationality be Experimentally Demonstrated?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 4: 317-370.
Cosmides, L. (1989) “The Logic of Selection: Has Natural Selection Shaped how Humans Reason? Studies with the Wason Selection Task” Cognition 31: 187-276.
Cosmides, L. & J. Tooby (1987) “From Evolution to Behavior: Evolutionary Psychology as the Missing Link” in J-P. Dupré (ed.) The Latest on the Best: Essays on Evolution and Optimality (Cambridge: MIT Press) pp. 277-306.
Evans, J. (1987) Bias in Human Reasoning: Causes and Consequences. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum).
Gigerenzer, G. (1991) “How to make Cognitive Illusions Disappear: Beyond ‘Heuristics and Biases’” European Review of Social Psychology 2: 83-115.
Gigerenzer, G. (1994) “Why the Distinction between Single-event Probabilities and Frequencies is Important for Psychology (and Vice Versa)” in G. Wright and P. Ayton (eds.) Subjective Probability (NY: John Wiley & Sons), pp. 129-161.
Gigerenzer, G. (1998) “Ecological Intelligence: An Adaptation for Frequencies” in D. Cummins & C. Allen (eds.) The Evolution of Mind (NY: Oxford University Press), pp. 9-29.
Kahneman, D., & A. Tversky (1973) “On the Psychology of Prediction” Psychological Review 80: 237-251.
Kahneman, D., P. Slovic, & A. Tversky (1982) Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP). 14
Nisbett, R. & L. Ross (1980) Human Inference (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall).
Rorty, R. (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press).
Wason, P. (1966) “Reasoning” in B. Foss (ed.) New Horizons in Psychology London: Penguin Books).  

Creationism, Evolution, and Intelligent Design

As a rationalist, I do not surrender my reasoning to anyone. However, the debate about Intelligent Design is going to impact us, and I thought I would try to collate reference materials that we as scientists and rationalists should be aware of. First an article by Massimo Pigliucci, followed by an essential reading list that Stephen Gould (1941-2002) put together before he died. It is a good start point for all of us that want to debate the issues.

Design Yes, Intelligent No

A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory and Neocreationism

The claims by Behe, Dembski, and other “intelligent design” creationists that science should be opened to supernatural explanations and that these should be allowed in academic as well as public school curricula are unfounded and based on a misunderstanding of both design in nature and of what the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution is all about.

Massimo Pigliucci

A new brand of creationism has appeared on the scene in the last few years. The so-called neocreationists largely do not believe in a young Earth or in a too literal interpretation of the Bible. While still mostly propelled by a religious agenda and financed by mainly Christian sources such as the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery Institute, the intellectual challenge posed by neocreationism is sophisticated enough to require detailed consideration (see Edis 2001; Roche 2001).    

Among the chief exponents of Intelligent Design (ID) theory, as this new brand of creationism is called, is William Dembski, a mathematical philosopher and author of The Design Inference (1998a). In that book he attempts to show that there must be an intelligent designer behind natural phenomena such as evolution and the very origin of the universe (see Pigliucci 2000 for a detailed critique). Dembki’s (1998b) argument is that modern science ever since Francis Bacon has illicitly dropped two of Aristotle’s famous four types of causes from consideration altogether, thereby unnecessarily restricting its own explanatory power. Science is thus incomplete, and intelligent design theory will rectify this sorry state of affairs, if only close-minded evolutionists would allow Dembski and company to do the job.



Aristotle’s Four Causes in Science

Aristotle identified material causes, what something is made of; formal causes, the structure of the thing or phenomenon; efficient causes, the immediate activity producing a phenomenon or object; and final causes, the purpose of whatever object we are investigating. For example, let’s say we want to investigate the “causes” of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its material cause would be encompassed by a description of the physical materials that went into its construction. The formal cause is the fact that it is a bridge across a stretch of water, and not either a random assembly of pieces or another kind of orderly structure (such as a skyscraper). The efficient causes were the blueprints drawn by engineers and the labor of men and machines that actually assembled the physical materials and put them into place. The final cause of the Brooklyn Bridge was the necessity for people to walk and ride between two landmasses without getting wet.

Dembski maintains that Bacon and his followers did away with both formal and final causes (the so-called teleonomic causes, because they answer the question of why something is) in order to free science from philosophical speculation and ground it firmly into empirically verifiable statements. That may be so, but things certainly changed with the work of Charles Darwin (1859). Darwin was addressing a complex scientific question in an unprecedented fashion: he recognized that living organisms are clearly designed in order to survive and reproduce in the world they inhabit; yet, as a scientist, he worked within the framework of naturalistic explanations of such design. Darwin found the answer in his well-known theory of natural selection. Natural selection, combined with the basic process of mutation, makes design possible in nature without recourse to a supernatural explanation because selection is definitely nonrandom, and therefore has “creative” (albeit nonconscious) power. Creationists usually do not understand this point and think that selection can only eliminate the less fit; but Darwin’s powerful insight was that selection is also a cumulative process-analogous to a ratchet-which can build things over time, as long as the intermediate steps are also advantageous.

Darwin made it possible to put all four Aristotelian causes back into science. For example, if we were to ask what are the causes of a tiger’s teeth within a Darwinian framework, we would answer in the following manner. The material cause is provided by the biological materials that make up the teeth; the formal cause is the genetic and developmental machinery that distinguishes a tiger’s teeth from any other kind of biological structure; the efficient cause is natural selection promoting some genetic variants of the tiger’s ancestor over their competitors; and the final cause is provided by the fact that having teeth structured in a certain way makes it easier for a tiger to procure its prey and therefore to survive and reproduce-the only “goals” of every living being.

Therefore, design is very much a part of modern science, at least whenever there is a need to explain an apparently designed structure (such as a living organism). All four Aristotelian causes are fully reinstated within the realm of scientific investigation, and science is not maimed by the disregard of some of the causes acting in the world. What then is left of the argument of Dembski and of other proponents of ID? They, like William Paley (1831) well before them, make the mistake of confusing natural design and intelligent design by rejecting the possibility of the former and concluding that any design must by definition be intelligent.

One is left with the lingering feeling that Dembski is being disingenuous about ancient philosophy. It is quite clear, for example, that Aristotle himself never meant his teleonomic causes to imply intelligent design in nature (Cohen 2000). His mentor, Plato (in Timaeus), had already concluded that the designer of the universe could not be an omnipotent god, but at most what he called a Demiurge, a lesser god who evidently messes around with the universe with mixed results. Aristotle believed that the scope of god was even more limited, essentially to the role of prime mover of the universe, with no additional direct interaction with his creation (i.e., he was one of the first deists). In Physics, where he discusses the four causes, Aristotle treats nature itself as a craftsman, but clearly devoid of forethought and intelligence. A tiger develops into a tiger because it is in its nature to do so, and this nature is due to some physical essence given to it by its father (we would call it DNA) which starts the process out. Aristotle makes clear this rejection of god as a final cause (Cohen 2000) when he says that causes are not external to the organism (such as a designer would be) but internal to it (as modern developmental biology clearly shows). In other words, the final cause of a living being is not a plan, intention, or purpose, but simply intrinsic in the developmental changes of that organism. Which means that Aristotle identified final causes with formal causes as far as living organisms are concerned. He rejected chance and randomness (as do modern biologists) but did not invoke an intelligent designer in its place, contra Dembski. We had to wait until Darwin for a further advance on Aristotle’s conception of the final cause of living organisms and for modern molecular biology to achieve an understanding of their formal cause.


Irreducible Complexity

There are two additional arguments proposed by ID theorists to demonstrate intelligent design in the universe: the con-cept of “irreducible complexity” and the “complexity-specification” criterion. Irreducible complexity is a term introduced in this context by molecular biologist Michael Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box (1996). The idea is that the difference between a natural phenomenon and an intelligent designer is that a designed object is planned in advance, with forethought. While an intelligent agent is not constrained by a step-by-step evolutionary process, an evolutionary process is the only way nature itself can proceed given that it has no planning capacity (this may be referred to as incremental complexity). Irreducible complexity then arises whenever all the parts of a structure have to be present and functional simultaneously for it to work, indicating-according to Behe-that the structure was designed and could not possibly have been gradually built by natural selection.

Behe’s example of an irreducibly complex object is a mousetrap. If you take away any of the minimal elements that make the trap work it will lose its function; on the other hand, there is no way to assemble a mousetrap gradually from a natural phenomenon, because it won’t work until the last piece is assembled. Forethought, and therefore intelligent design, is necessary. Of course it is. After all, mousetraps as purchased in hardware stores are indeed human products; we know that they are intelligently designed. But what of biological structures? Behe claims that, while evolution can explain a lot of the visible diversity among living organisms, it is not enough when we come to the molecular level. The cell and several of its fundamental components and biochemical pathways are, according to him, irreducibly complex.

The problem with this statement is that it is contradicted by the available literature on comparative studies in microbiology and molecular biology, which Behe conveniently ignores (Miller 1996). For example, geneticists are continuously showing that biochemical pathways are partly redundant. Redundancy is a common feature of living organisms where different genes are involved in the same or in partially overlapping functions. While this may seem a waste, mathematical models show that evolution by natural selection has to produce molecular redundancy because when a new function is necessary it cannot be carried out by a gene that is already doing something else, without compromising the original function. On the other hand, if the gene gets duplicated (by mutation), one copy is freed from immediate constraints and can slowly diverge in structure from the original, eventually taking over new functions. This process leads to the formation of gene “families,” groups of genes clearly originated from a single ancestral DNA sequence, and that now are diversified and perform a variety of functions (e.g., the globins, which vary from proteins allowing muscle contraction to those involved in the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood). As a result of redundancy, mutations can knock down individual components of biochemical pathways without compromising the overall function-contrary to the expectations of irreducible complexity.

(Notice that creationists, never ones to loose a bit, have also tried to claim that redundancy is yet another evidence of intelligent design, because an engineer would produce backup systems to minimize catastrophic failures should the primary components stop functioning. While very clever, this argument once again ignores the biology: the majority of duplicated genes end up as pseudogenes, literally pieces of molecular junk that are eventually lost forever to any biological utility [Max 1986].)

To be sure, there are several cases in which biologists do not know enough about the fundamental constituents of the cell to be able to hypothesize or demonstrate their gradual evolution. But this is rather an argument from ignorance, not positive evidence of irreducible complexity. William Paley advanced exactly the same argument to claim that it is impossible to explain the appearance of the eye by natural means. Yet, today biologists know of several examples of intermediate forms of the eye, and there is evidence that this structure evolved several times independently during the history of life on Earth (Gehring and Ikeo 1999). The answer to the classical creationist question, “What good is half an eye?” is “Much better than no eye at all”!

However, Behe does have a point concerning irreducible complexity. It is true that some structures simply cannot be explained by slow and cumulative processes of natural selection. From his mousetrap to Paley’s watch to the Brooklyn Bridge, irreducible complexity is indeed associated with intelligent design. The problem for ID theory is that there is no evidence so far of irreducible complexity in living organisms.


The Complexity-Specification Criterion

William Dembski uses an approach similar to Behe to back up creationist claims, in that he also wants to demonstrate that intelligent design is necessary to explain the complexity of nature. His proposal, however, is both more general and more deeply flawed. In his book The Design Inference (Dembski 1998a) he claims that there are three essential types of phenomena in nature: “regular,” random, and designed (which he assumes to be intelligent). A regular phenomenon would be a simple repetition explainable by the fundamental laws of physics, for example the rotation of Earth around the Sun. Random phenomena are exemplified by the tossing of a coin. Design enters any time that two criteria are satisfied: complexity and specification (Dembski 1998b).

There are several problems with this neat scenario. First of all, leaving aside design for a moment, the remaining choices are not limited to regularity and randomness. Chaos and complexity theory have established the existence of self-organizing phenomena (Kauffman 1993; Shanks and Joplin 1999), situations in which order spontaneously appears as an emergent property of complex interactions among the parts of a system. And this class of phenomena, far from being only a figment of mathematical imagination as Behe maintains, are real. For example, certain meteorological phenomena such as tornados are neither regular nor random but are the result of self-organizing processes.

But let us go back to complexity-specification and take a closer look at these two fundamental criteria, allegedly capable of establishing intelligent agency in nature. Following one of Dembski’s examples, if SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers received a very short signal that may be interpreted as encoding the first three prime numbers, they would probably not rush to publish their findings. This is because even though such signal could be construed as due to some kind of intelligence, it is so short that its occurrence can just as easily be explained by chance. Given the choice, a sensible scientist would follow Ockham’s razor and conclude that the signal does not constitute enough evidence for extraterrestrial intelligence. However, also according to Dembski, if the signal were long enough to encode all the prime numbers between 2 and 101, the SETI people would open the champagne and celebrate all night. Why? Because such signal would be both too complex to be explained by chance and would be specifiable, meaning that it is not just a random sequence of numbers, it is an intelligible message.

The specification criterion needs to be added because complexity by itself is a necessary but not sufficient condition for design (Roche 2001). To see this, imagine that the SETI staff receives a long but random sequence of signals. That sequence would be very complex, meaning that it would take a lot of information to actually archive or repeat the sequence (you have to know where all the 0s and 1s are), but it would not be specifiable because the sequence would be meaningless.

Dembski is absolutely correct that plenty of human activities, such as SETI, investigations into plagiarism, or encryption, depend on the ability to detect intelligent agency. Where he is wrong is in assuming only one kind of design. For him design equals intelligence and, even though he admitted that such an intelligence may be an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, his preference is for a god, possibly of the Christian variety.

The problem is that natural selection, a natural process, also fulfills the complexity-specification criterion, thereby demonstrating that it is possible to have unintelligent design in nature. Living organisms are indeed complex. They are also specifiable, meaning that they are not random assemblages of organic compounds, but are clearly formed in a way that enhances their chances of surviving and reproducing in a changing and complex environment. What, then, distinguishes organisms from the Brooklyn Bridge? Both meet Dembski’s complexity-specification criterion, but only the bridge is irreducibly complex. This has important implications for design.

In response to some of his critics, Dembski (2000) claimed that intelligent design does not mean optimal design. The criticism of suboptimal design has often been advanced by evolutionists who ask why God would do such a sloppy job with creation that even a mere human engineer can easily determine where the flaws are. For example, why is it that human beings have hemorrhoids, varicose veins, backaches, and foot aches? If you assume that we were “intelligent-ly” designed, the answer must be that the designer was rather incompetent-something that would hardly please a creationist. Instead, evolutionary theory has a single answer to all these questions: humans evolved bipedalism (walking with an erect posture) only very recently, and natural selection has not yet fully adapted our body to the new condition (Olshansky et al. 2001). Our closest primate relatives, chimps, gorillas, and the like, are better adapted to their way of life, and therefore are less “imperfect” than ourselves!

Dembski is of course correct in saying that intelligent design does not mean optimal design. As much as the Brooklyn Bridge is a marvel of engineering, it is not perfect, meaning that it had to be constructed within the constraints and limitations of the available materials and technology, and it still is subject to natural laws and decay. The bridge’s vulnerability to high winds and earthquakes, and its inadequacy to bear a volume of traffic for which it was not built can be seen as similar to the back pain caused by our recent evolutionary history. However, the imperfection of living organisms, already pointed out by Darwin, does do away with the idea that they were created by an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator, who surely would not be limited by laws of physics that He Himself made up from scratch.

Figure 1


The Four Fundamental Types of Design and How to Recognize Them

Given these considerations, I would like to propose a system that includes both Behe’s and Dembski’s suggestions, while at the same time showing why they are both wrong in concluding that we have evidence for intelligent design in the universe. Figure 1 summarizes my proposal. Essentially, I think there are four possible kinds of design in nature which, together with Dembski’s categories of “regular” and random phenomena, and the addition of chaotic and self-organizing phenomena, truly exhaust all possibilities known to us. Science recognizes regular, random, and self-organizing phenomena, as well as the first two types of design described in figure 1. The other two types of design are possible in principle, but I contend that there is neither empirical evidence nor logical reason to believe that they actually occur.

The first kind of design is non-intelligent-natural, and it is exemplified by natural selection within Earth’s biosphere (and possibly elsewhere in the universe). The results of this design, such as all living organisms on Earth, are not irreducibly complex, meaning that they can be produced by incremental, continuous (though not necessarily gradual) changes over time. These objects can be clearly attributed to natural processes also because of two other reasons: they are never optimal (in an engineering sense) and they are clearly the result of historical processes. For example, they are full of junk, nonutilized or underutilized parts, and they resemble similar objects occurring simultaneously or previously in time (see, for example, the fossil record). Notice that some scientists and philosophers of science feel uncomfortable in considering this “design” because they equate the term with intelligence. But I do not see any reason to embrace such limitation. If something is shaped over time-by whatever means-such that it fulfills a certain function, then it is designed and the question is simply of how such design happened to materialize. The teeth of a tiger are clearly designed to efficiently cut into the flesh of its prey and therefore to promote survival and reproduction of tigers bearing such teeth.

The second type of design is intelligent-natural. These artifacts are usually irreducibly complex, such as a watch designed by a human. They are also not optimal, meaning that they clearly compromise between solutions to different problems (trade-offs) and they are subject to the constraints of physical laws, available materials, expertise of the designer, etc. Humans may not be the only ones to generate these objects, as the artifacts of any extraterrestrial civilization would fall into the same broad category.

The third kind of design, which is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish from the second, is what I term intelligent-supernatural-sloppy. Objects created in this way are essentially indistinguishable from human or ET artifacts, except that they would be the result of what the Greeks called a Demiurge, a minor god with limited powers. Alternatively, they could be due to an evil omnipotent god that just amuses himself with suboptimal products. The reason intelligent-supernatural-sloppy design is not distinguishable from some instances (but by all means not all) of intelligent-natural design is Arthur C. Clarke’s famous third law: from the point of view of a technologically less advanced civilization, the technology of a very advanced civilization is essentially indistinguishable from magic (such as the monolith in his 2001: A Space Odyssey). I would be very interested if someone could suggest a way around Clarke’s law.

Finally, we have intelligent-supernatural-perfect design, which is the result of the activity of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god. These artifacts would be both irreducibly complex and optimal. They would not be constrained by either trade-offs or physical laws (after all, God created the laws themselves). While this is the kind of god many Christian fundamentalists believe in (though some do away with the omnibenevolent part), it’s quite clear from the existence of human evil as well as of natural catastrophes and diseases, that such god does not exist. Dembski recognizes this difficulty and, as I pointed out above, admits that his intelligent design could even be due to a very advanced extraterrestrial civilization, and not to a supernatural entity at all (Dembski 2000).



In summary, it seems to me that the major arguments of Intelligent Design theorists are neither new nor compelling:


  1. It is simply not true that science does not address all Aristotelian causes, whenever design needs to be explained;
  2. While irreducible complexity is indeed a valid criterion to distinguish between intelligent and non-intelligent design, these are not the only two possibilities, and living organisms are not irreducibly complex (e.g., see Shanks and Joplin 1999);
  3. The complexity-specification criterion is actually met by natural selection, and cannot therefore provide a way to distinguish intelligent from non-intelligent design;
  4. If supernatural design exists at all (but where is the evidence or compelling logic?), this is certainly not of the kind that most religionists would likely subscribe to, and it is indistinguishable from the technology of a very advanced civilization.

Therefore, Behe’s, Dembski’s, and other creationists’ (e.g., Johnson 1997) claims that science should be opened to supernatural explanations and that these should be allowed in academic as well as public school curricula are unfounded and based on a misunderstanding of both design in nature and of what the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (Mayr and Provine 1980) is all about.



I would like to thank Melissa Brenneman, Will Provine, and Niall Shanks for insightful comments on earlier versions of this article, as well as Michael Behe, William Dembski, Ken Miller, and Barry Palevitz for indulging in correspondence and discussions with me over these matters.



Massimo Pigliucci is associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology a tthe University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100, and author of Tales of the Rational: Skeptical Essays About Nature and Science. His essays can be found at http://fp.bio.utk.edu/skeptic  

The following is a list that Stephen Gould (1941-2002) put together before he died. It is a good start point for all of us.

Pro-Intelligent Design Websites
   Access Research Network
   Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture
   Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness
   Origins Home Page, The
   Phillip E. Johnson Page
   Reasons To Believe
   True.Origin Archive, The
   Why I Disbelieve Evolution
   William Dembski’s Homepage

Pro-Evolution Websites
   Creation-Evolution Controversy, The
   Design on the Defensive
   Kansas Citizens For Science
   Metanexus on Science and Religion
   National Center for Science Education
   Secular Web’s Science Religion Page
   Talk.Origins Archive, The
   Talk.Reason: Unintelligent Design
   Was Darwin Wrong?: The Critics of Evolution
   World of Richard Dawkins, The


Intelligent-Design Creationism

Frequently Asked Questions about Intelligent Design: from ARN

The Intelligent Design Movement by Dr. Wayne Wofford
“The members of the intelligent design movement are attempting to return to the idea that science and religion are compatible. They are taking a number of approaches, including examination of the complexity of biochemical systems, statistical approaches involving diminishing probabilities…and philosophy.”

Creation and Evolution of a Controversy: by Robert T. Pennock
“Now we come to what may be the most significant recent development in the conceptual evolution of creationism. A more powerful movement is gaining strength within the Tower and is beginning to take the lead in the battles against evolution in the field. This is the group of creationists that advocates ‘theistic science’ and promotes what they call ‘intelligent-design theory.'”

Anti-evolutionists Form, Fund Think Tank: by Eugenie C. Scott
“The funding and deployment of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture is a major step towards scholarly respectability for a relatively new group of anti-evolutionists: religious conservatives based at secular universities.…We are witnessing the embryogenesis of what I shall call ‘university-based anti-evolutionism.'”

Evolutionists Battle New Theory on Creation: by James Glanz
“In Kansas, after the backlash against the traditional biblical creationism, proponents of the design theory have become the dominant anti-evolution force, though they lost an effort to have theories like intelligent design considered on an equal basis with evolution in school curriculums.”

Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula: A Legal Guidebook: by Stephen Meyer, David DeWolf, and Mark DeForrest

The Wedge Strategy: CRSC internal document

The Wedge: A Christian Plan to Overthrow Modern Science?:
by Keith Lankford “What is troublesome about the [Wedge] document (and CRSC in general) is that it focuses on overthrowing evolution, not from within scientific establishments, but through convincing the public that its theory is the morally acceptable one.”

Discovery Institute’s Wedge project Circulates Online: by James Still
“A recently-circulated position paper of The Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, reveals an ambitious plan to replace the current naturalistic methodology of science with a theistic alternative called ‘intelligent design.'”

Intelligent Design Goes to Washington: Skeptical Inquirer
“Supporters of intelligent design theory…brought their message to Capitol Hill May 10 in a series of events for members of Congress and their staff.…Until now, the creation-evolution debate has primarily been active at the state and local level, but this event may represent the start of a new effort to involve Congress in efforts to oppose the teaching of evolution.”

ID Works In Mysterious Ways: by Michael Shermer
“I have participated in numerous debates with creationists and theologians. And, in fact, my participation at this conference was a debate with Stephen Meyer in which I did address many of their points. For my money, however, the action is not in the arguments of ID, all of which have been thoroughly refuted by myself and others…but in the psychology of ID. What is really going on here is old-time religion dressed up in new fangled jargon.”

How We Threw the Bums Out: by Adrian Melott
An overview of the public-relation strategies used by all sides in the wake of the Kansas State Board decision to remove the theory of evolution from the state education standards.

The Wedge at Work: by Barbara Forrest
“Barbara Forrest, Southeastern Louisiana University, outlines the political agenda of the Discovery Institute’s “Wedge Strategy,” exposing it as a scientific failure encumbered by religious ambition and public relations. Forrest articulates clearly the goals, strategies, and political ambitions of the Intelligent Design movement in America today.”

The Wedge Strategy Three Years Later: by James Still

Creationism Concerns Cause ‘Big Bang’ Over BU Think Tank: by Mark England  “Skeptical science faculty at Baylor University are…taking aim at the Michael Polanyi Center, a think tank created without fanfare last year by Baylor’s administration to bridge the gap between religion and science. Several faculty members, however, charge its hidden agenda is legitimizing the discussion of creationism in classrooms.”

Assault on Evolution: by Larry Arnhart
“Until recently, the critics of Darwinism have championed creationism—the idea that a literal reading of the early chapters of the Bible offers a more accurate account of human origins than Darwinian biology does.…But now intelligent design theorists are claiming that scientific data show evidence in the living world for ‘irreducible complexity’ or ‘specified complexity,’ which can only be explained as the work of an intelligent designer.”


Critiques of Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design: The New Stealth Creationism: by Victor J. Stenger
“The intelligent design movement is nothing more than stealth creationism, yet another effort to insinuate the particular sectarian belief of a personal creator into science education. The argument for design to the universe is, of course, ancient; what is new here is the wrongful claim that this philosophical and theological argument is now supported by science.”

Answering the Creationists: by Michael Ruse
“The new creationism is no more effective than any of the earlier versions. … The new creationism is a slicker product than the old creationism. Exploring the fears of its exponents leads us to think more carefully about Darwinism and its nature and limits. But, ultimately, there is nothing to challenge Darwin’s work.”

Design Yes, Intelligent No: by Massimo Pigliucci
“A new brand of creationism has appeared on the scene in the last few years. While still mostly propelled by a religious agenda and financed by mainly Christian sources such as the Templeton Foundation and the Discovery Institute, the intellectual challenge posed by neocreationism is sophisticated enough to require detailed consideration.”

The Design Detectives: by Jason Rosenhouse
“The intellectual legitimacy of the ID movement rests on the validity of the explanatory filter as a means for detecting design in nature. It is the difference between a legitimate theistic science and ye olde God of the Gaps. Dembski’s books are a serious, though deeply flawed…Johnson, by contrast, is just an intellectual poseur desperately trying to remain relevant to a movement that left him behind long ago.” Reviewed, Dembski’s Intelligent Design (1999) and Johnson’s The Wedge of Truth (2001).

The “New” Creationism: by Robert Wright
“What is really new about ‘intelligent design theory’? And who are these ‘academics and intellectuals’? The answer to the first question — nothing of significance — is best seen by answering the second question.”

Intelligent Design and the SETI Analogy: by Robert T. Pennock
“Intelligent-design theorists argue that just as the scientists of the SETI Project seek evidence of intelligence beyond the world, so too do they. …
I think that if we investigate the question of intelligent design in this context it will be easier to see why the IDC conclusion is not scientific.”

Saving Us from Darwin: by Frederick C. Crews
“If creationism were to shed its Dogpatch image and take a subtler tack, it could multiply its influence many fold. Precisely such a makeover has been in the works since 1990 or so. The new catchword is “intelligent design” . . . They are very busy turning out popular books, holding press conferences and briefings, working the Internet, wooing legislators . . . and even, in one instance, securing an on-campus institute all to themselves.”

Intelligent Design: Humans, Cockroaches, and the Laws of Physics: by Victor J. Stenger “As the bankruptcy of creation ‘science’ becomes increasingly recognized, a new catch phrase, intelligent design, has been adopted by those who persist in their attempts to inject creationism into the science curriculum.” Stenger then argues that there exist “no evidence or rational argument for intelligent design” moreover it is an “uneconomical hypothesis that is not required by existing scientific knowledge.”

A Word About Intelligent Design: by Burt Humburg
“There is nothing wrong with Intelligent Design as a strictly religious or philosophical concept. However, it simply fails as a scientific theory. … Because Intelligent Design cannot be disproved and because it is not predictive, it cannot be science. Because Intelligent Design is not science, it is inappropriate to teach it in the public school science classroom.”

A Bit Confused: Creationism and Information Theory: by David Roche
“The argument of some creationists that modern information theory refutes Darwinian evolution is based on a confusion between two distinct information concepts. At the heart of the Darwinian thesis is not information, but complexity.…Once we understand the difference between these two types of information—Shannon information and complexity—it is easy to see what’s wrong with the information argument against evolution.”

The Menace of Darwinism: by Victor J. Stenger
“Creationists responded quickly to the legal developments in Arkansas and a new version of creation science soon took over the spotlight. This re-creation of creation science parades under a banner labelled intelligent design. While intelligent design differs in substantial ways from its previous incarnations, unabashed religious creationism it remains.”

A Designer Universe?: by Steven Weinberg
“Some physicists have argued that certain constants of nature have values that seem to have been mysteriously fine-tuned to just the values that allow for the possibility of life, in a way that could only be explained by the intervention of a designer with some special concern for life. I am not impressed with these supposed instances of fine-tuning.”

The Big Tent and the Camel’s Nose: by Eugenie C. Scott
“In my talk, I wasn’t deploring the untestability of ID per se but the fact that its proponents don’t present testable models. I was referring to the fact that ID proponents don’t present a model at all in the sense of saying what happened when. At least YEC presents a view of ‘what happens:’ . . . I said (and have said repeatedly) that the message of ID is ‘evolution is bad science,’ without providing an alternative view of the history of the universe.”

Dealing with Antievolutionism: by Eugenie C. Scott

Cosmythology: Is the universe fine-tuned to produce us?: by Victor J. Stenger (Also in PDF format; from Skeptic Vol. 4, No. 2, 1996.)

A Brief Philosophical Critique of Intelligent Design: by Michael Lotti
“Here is a bold assertion: the distinction between ‘intelligently designed’ and ‘naturally developed’ is only sensible insofar as it directly corresponds to the distinction between ‘man-made’ and ‘natural.’ If this is correct, it severely undermines the project to create a viable ID theory.”

Calvin College Hosts “Design” Conference: by Jeffrey Shallit
“The lack of scientific success may account for the large chips on the shoulders of ID advocates. In talks and discussions, I heard repeatedly about how the ‘scientific establishment’ was arrayed against ID proponents, that their work was being ‘suppressed,’ and so forth. The possibility that ID research was either nonexistent or of poor quality was never entertained.”

The Anthropic Principle Does Not Support Supernaturalism: by
Michael Ikeda and Bill Jefferys   “It has recently been claimed, most prominently by Dr. Hugh Ross on his web site, that the so-called ‘fine-tuning’ of the constants of physics supports a supernatural origin of the universe. Specifically, it is claimed that many of the constants of physics must be within a very small range of their actual values, or else life could not exist in our universe.…In this article we will show that this argument is wrong.”

The Anthropic Coincidences: A Natural Explanation: by Victor Stenger
Contrary to what many Americans have read in the pages of Newsweek (July, 1998), Stenger says: “Based on all we currently know about fundamental physics and cosmology, the most logically consistent and parsimonious picture of the universe as we know it is a natural one, with no sign of design or purposeful creation provided by scientific observations.”

Darwin in Mind: ID Meets Artificial Intelligence: by Taner Edis
“Proponents of ‘Intelligent Design’ claim information theory refutes Darwinian evolution. Modern physics and artificial intelligence research turns their arguments on their head.”


Michael Behe

Michael Behe’s Page: from ARN

Behe’s Empty Box: edited by John Catalano

Darwin versus Intelligent Design (Again): by H. Allen Orr, Boston Review

God in the Details: by Jerry A. Coyne
Reviewed in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal.

Review of Darwin’s Black Box: by Kenneth R. Miller
“Behe [at the closing of his book] attempts to develop the idea of intelligent design into a testable, scientific hypothesis. This is a lofty goal, but this is also where his argument collapses. Scientific ideas must be formulated in terms that make them testable.… Being a trained experimental scientist, one would have expected that Behe would have seen the need to do likewise. Unfortunately, he did not.”

The God of the Tiny Gaps: by Andrew Pomiankowski
“Behe is good at exposing the paucity of evolutionary thought in the field of biochemistry. But in Darwin’s Black Box, he reveals that he is also part of the problem, falling back on the old, limp idea of ‘design.’ He takes irreducible complexity as a statement of fact, rather than an admission of ignorance, claiming that the ‘purposeful arrangement’ of biochemical parts must be the result of an intelligent designer. So what we have here is just the latest, and no doubt not the last, attempt to put God back into nature.”

Born-Again Creationism: Behe’s Big Idea: by Philip Kitcher
“Behe…mounts his case for born-again creationism by taking one large problem, and posing it again and again. The problem isn’t particularly new [however] Behe gives it a new twist by drawing on his background as a biochemist, and describing the minute details of mechanisms in organisms so as to make it seem impossible that they could ever have emerged from a stepwise natural process.”

The Case of the Tell-Tale Traces: by Daniel C. Dennett
“Michael Behe’s book is an interesting attempt at a frontal assault on Darwinism based on an analysis of the complexities of molecular structures inside the cell.… He hints that this ignorance is an embarrassment to scientists, and suggests that it is a taboo topic for scientists because in their hearts they fear they cannot repair it, but this is not at all persuasive. Whether or not scientists ought to be worried, they just aren’t, and I can show why.”

Whose God? What Science? Reply to Michael Behe: by Robert Pennock
Pennock responds to Behe’s unfavorable review of his book, Tower of Babel.

Darwin’s New Critics on Trial: by Michael Ruse
“[Behe] is in as much trouble in the realm of philosophical theology as he was in the realm of biological science. He has offered us a freshened-up version of the old ‘God of the gaps’ argument for the deity’s existence: a Supreme Being must be invoked to explain those phenomenon for which I cannot offer a natural explanation. But such an argument proves only one’s own ignorance and inadequacy. It tells us nothing of beings beyond science.”


William Dembski

Who’s Got the Magic?: by William A. Dembski
A review of Robert Pennock’s Tower of Babel

The Anti-Evolutionists: William A. Dembski: edited by W. R. Elsberry

How Not to Detect Design: A Review of The Design Inference: by Branden Fitelson, Elliott Sober and Christopher Stephens:
“To test evolutionary theory against the hypothesis of intelligent design, you must know what both hypotheses predict about observables. The searchlight therefore must be focused on the design hypothesis itself. What does it predict? If defenders of the design hypothesis want their theory to be scientific, they need to do the scientific work of formulating and testing the predictions that creationism makes.”


  • Another Way to Detect Design?: by William A. Dembski
    “Specified complexity therefore seems at best to tell us what’s not the case, not what is the case. Couple this with a Darwinian mechanism that is widely touted as capable of generating specified complexity, and it is no wonder that the scientific community resists making specified complexity a universal criterion for intelligence.”

Review of Dembski’s Intelligent Design: by Gert Korthof
“Although Dembski has strong religious motivations, he constructed a non-religious design criterion. His previous mathematical research guaranteed a scientific exposition of the concepts ‘information’ and ‘complexity’.…However his application of ‘complexity’ and ‘information’ to biology is sketchy and weak. Dembski did not give a coherent exposition of the extent to which natural selection can generate information.”

Physics, Cosmology and the New Creationism: by Victor J. Stenger
“Dembski has become prominent for claiming to apply modern information theory to the issue of design and…initiating a ‘new science.’ … As Dembski states it, ‘chance and law working in tandem cannot generate information.’ I will try to show that this is incorrect, when interpreted as some universal principle applying under all circumstances, which Dembski seems to do.”

Snake Eyes in the Garden of Eden: by Keith Devlin
“Antievolutionists argue that humanity could not have evolved by chance. But just how would one recognize the presence of design?”

Review of Dembski’s No Free Lunch: by H. Allen Orr
“You might whip up a bit of applause if you say that a designer can explain biology. But you’ll bring down the house if you say that Darwinism can’t and only a designer can.…Unfortunately, Dembski’s proof has nothing whatsoever to do with Darwinism and his claim to the contrary is hopelessly silly.”

Not a Free Lunch But a Box of Chocolates: by Richard Wein
“The aim of Dr William Dembski’s book No Free Lunch is to demonstrate that design (the action of a conscious agent) was involved in the process of biological evolution. The following critique shows that his arguments are deeply flawed and have little to contribute to science or mathematics.”

First Impressions of Intelligent Design: by Wesley R. Elsberry
“I had hoped that Dembski might expand his analysis of natural selection in this volume, but so far that appears not to be the case. Back in 1997, Dembski promised that we would see his full-blown technical discussion of natural selection in section 6.3 of The Design Inference. Section 6.3 of TDI includes no such thing. Nor does any other part of TDI.”

The Emperor’s New Designer Clothes: by Victor J. Stenger
“When Dembski says that information cannot be generated naturally, he seems to be voicing yet another muddled version of the common creationist assertion that the second law forbids the generation of order by natural processes. Like his predecessors, he ignores the caveat ‘closed system’ in the formal statement of the second law. Open systems can and do become more orderly by their interaction with other systems.”


Phillip E. Johnson

A Review of Darwin on Trial: by Gert Korthof

Impeaching a Self-Appointed Judge: by Stephen Jay Gould
Darwin on Trial, hardly deserves to be called a book at all. It is, at best, a long magazine article promoted to hard covers—a clumsy, repetitious abstract argument with no weighing of evidence, no careful reading of literature on all sides, no full citation of sources…The book, in short, is full of errors, badly argued, based on false criteria, and abysmally written.”

Darwin Prosecuted: Review of Darwin on Trial: by Eugenie Scott
Darwin on Trial…fails to disprove evolution, but the spirit behind it deserves to be recognized by all scientists. Johnson reflects the anguish expressed by many conservative Christians who believe that something terribly important is lost if evolution is true, and especially if the way things change is through the wasteful and generally unattractive mechanism of natural selection.”

Naturalistic Fallacy: Review of Reason in the Balance: by Michael Ruse
“Here, laid out in full detail, are the reasons why a respectable and intelligent man like Johnson would freely and gladly make himself a pariah, even in conservative academic circles.…It is not a little bit of evolution that worries Johnson and his ilk. A new adaptation here, a lost adaptation there—who cares? Rather, it is the very moral fiber of the nation that counts. Let in evolution, and pornography, abortion, and sodomy are next.”

The Prospects for a Theistic Science: by Robert T. Pennock
“Johnson and the new Creationists go much further than Newton in their recommendations for a theistic science that incorporates divine interventions and allows appeal to supernatural explanations. In this paper I examine the prospects for such a theistic science.”

The Mistrial of Evolution: by Prof. Terry M. Gray
Theistic-evolutionist Terry Gray (Calvin College) reviews Darwin on Trial.

Review of Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds: by Jeffrey Shallit
A brief but very clever review of Phillip Johnson’s Defeating Darwinism.

Review of Darwin on Trial: by Eugenie C. Scott
“Can one use Darwin on Trial to learn about evolution? Not very well! Darwin on Trial teaches little that is accurate about either the nature of science, or the topic of evolution. It is recommended neither by scientists nor educators. Among the book’s critics are evangelical Christian scientists who have criticized Darwin on Trial’s scientific accuracy.”

Review of Darwin on Trial: by Wesley R. Elsberry
“Anti-evolutionist apologetics are, in large part, the search for a ‘magic bullet’ that will kill Darwinian explanations dead on contact.… Those armed with a magic bullet can combat the evil lycanthrope directly, without having to go to the trouble of…needing to know anything in a deep sense about the subject of lycanthropy. All the magic bullet user needs to know is how to point and pull a trigger. Phillip Johnson’s book of magic bullets fits the formula.”


Miscellaneous Authors


Michael Denton

Review of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis: by Mark I. Vuletic
“I will argue in this paper that both of Denton’s attempts to make an adequate challenge to evolutionary biology fail — neither does Denton manage to undermine the evidence for evolution, nor does he succeed in demonstrating that macroevolutionary mechanisms are inherently implausible.”

Review of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis: by Gert Korthof
Evolution: A Theory in Crisis is the most scientific anti-evolution and anti-Darwinism book I read so far. And that doesn’t imply that the book is free from scientific errors or that the book is free of bias. Because of the errors and the bias, I cannot recommend it to those with little biological training, unless endowed with a sound critical attitude.”

Review of Evolution: A Theory in Crisis: by Al Case
“I had this book recommended to me by several creationists who said it was ‘the best’ book available for exposing ‘the myth of evolution.’ With that in mind, I did a thorough read and came away with the opinion that ‘the best’ is not much better than the worst.”

Review of Nature’s Destiny: by Mark I. Vuletic
“Although Denton’s book is widely praised among creationists, Denton is no fundamentalist. In his latest book, Michael Denton argues for a theological view that is most like deism or pantheism. However, Denton’s view is ‘distinct from pantheism and some varieties of deism in that it takes the production of familiar and anthropomorphic life as the raison d’être of the universe.'”


Jonathan Wells

Jonathan Wells: Who is He, What Is He Doing?: by Jack Krebs
A look at Wells’ background in the milieu of the Creation/Evolution debate.

Review of Icons of Evolution: by Massimo Pigliucci
“Since there are omissions, simplifications, and inaccuracies in some general biology textbooks, obviously the modern theory of evolution must be wrong. This is the astounding line of reasoning that provides the backbone of Jonathan Wells’ Icons of Evolution. It is the latest book in a series of neo-creationist productions, dressed with the slightly more respectable label of ‘intelligent design theory.'”

Review of Icons of Evolution: by David Ussery
“The purpose of Icons of Evolution, Jonathan Wells claims, is to encourage people to ask questions about evolution, and to document that ‘students and the public are being systematically misinformed about the evidence for evolution.’ …After reading the book, I am convinced that Wells does a quite good job of summarizing…Creationist’s criticisms of evolution, but he fails miserably in his task of documenting his claim of fraud and conspiracy amongst scientists to purposefully and systematically misinform the public.”

An Iconoclast for Evolution?: by Larry D. Martin
“A Berkeley-educated biologist’s attack on the icons of evolution is full of sound and fury, signifying a difference in philosophy—not science.”

Creationism By Stealth: by Jerry A. Coyne
“Wells’s book rests entirely on a flawed syllogism: hence, textbooks illustrate evolution with examples; these examples are sometimes presented in incorrect or misleading ways; therefore evolution is a fiction. The second premise is not generally true, and even if were, the conclusion would not follow.…Authors of some biology texts may occasionally be sloppy, or slow to incorporate new research, but they are not duplicitous.”

Icons of Anti-Evolution: by Wesley R. Elsberry, et al.

A Point-by-Point Rebuttal of Icons of Evolution: by Massimo Pigliucci
In this pamphlet Dr. Pigliucci analyzes Jonathan Wells’ various claims of “fraud” found in biology textbooks, which Wells claims are used to unfairly bolster the case for evolution. Pigliucci argues that in many instances Wells’ examples are not devious at all, but rather excellent corroborations of evolution, only misunderstood by Wells and therefore merely giving the appearance of deceit. In other instances, Pigliucci says, where genuine errors have crept in, the blame must be placed fairly on the publishers, who, because of differing interests, take years to correct scientific error.

Icon of Obfuscation: by Nicholas Matzke
“[A]s we have seen, in every single case, the actual biological experts in their specific fields of expertise in fact agree that the actual evidence in their field supports modern evolutionary theory. Furthermore, many of these scientists have felt sufficiently strongly about this that they have published critiques of creationist misinterpretations of their work. Many of these scientists have felt sufficiently victimized by Wells to write specific rebuttals of him.”

Reviews of Icons Of Evolution: compiled by Don Lindsay
“The thrust of the book is that science classes commonly teach certain pieces of evidence, which Wells refers to as Icons. Wells argues that all of them are flawed in one way or another. He suggests that evolution may be a myth. Scientists disagree.”



A Review of J.P. Moreland’s The Creation Hypothesis: by Graham Oppy
“If creationists manage to come up with good reasons to take their views seriously, then I have no doubt that their views will be taken seriously. (Likewise for astrologers, phrenologists, scientologists, and all those other denizens of the margins of science.) To date, however — as the current volume makes manifest — no such reasons have been forthcoming.”

Review of Hugh Ross’ The Creator and the Cosmos: by Victor J. Stenger
“The argument for the existence of a personal Creator based on arguments from probability and coincidence are no more valid than William Paley’s divine watchmaker. They are simply the latest coat of varnish on the long-decrepit argument from design.…This book by High Ross does great damage to the need for an open, non-dogmatic discussion of the issues.”

Plantinga’s Probability Arguments Against Evolutionary Naturalism: by Branden Fitelson and Elliott Sober

Review of Lee Spetner’s Not By Chance!: by Gert Korthof
Lee Spetner, a physicist of the Jewish faith, claims his NREH hypothesis explains many observed phenomena that neo-Darwinism does not and cannot explain. How well are Spetner’s arguments formulated? Can random variation build information? Can the accumulation of mutations create new species? These questions and more are answered in this superb review.

Fitting the Bible to the Data: by Victor J. Stenger
Review of Gerald Schroeder’s The Science of God (1997).

A Reader’s Guide to Of Pandas and People: by Richard Aulie
“This book recommends ‘intelligent design’ as a better explanation of biological diversity than the theory of biological evolution. Many proponents of this movement endeavor to introduce ‘creation science’ or ‘creationism’ into biology courses in the public schools. Although the authors of the book I review do not use these terms, their effort must be viewed as part of the on-going ‘creationist’ movement, which seeks to obstruct the teaching of biological evolution.”

Of Pandas and People A Brief Critique: by Kenneth R. Miller
Kenneth Miller, biology professor at Brown University, argues that instead of being an “objective examination of the pros and cons of evolutionary biology” as claimed, Of Pandas reads more as “a collection of half-truths, distortions, and outright falsehoods that attempts to misrepresent biology and mislead students as to the scientific status of evolutionary biology.”


Philosophy of Science

Science as Falsification: by Sir Karl Popper
“It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory—if we look for confirmations. Confirmations should count only if they are the result of risky predictions; that is to say, if, unenlightened by the theory in question, we should have expected an event which was incompatible with the theory—an event which would have refuted the theory. Every ‘good’ scientific theory is a prohibition: it forbids certain things to happen. The more a theory forbids, the better it is.”

Science as Successful Prediction: by Imre Lakatos
“Thus the crucial element in falsificationism is whether the new theory offers any novel, excess information compared with its predecessor and whether some of this excess information is corroborated. Justificationists valued ‘confirming’ instances of a theory; naive falsificationists stressed ‘refuting’ instances; for the methodological falsificationists it is the—rather rare— corroborating instances of the excess information which are the crucial ones;”

The Most Precious Thing We Have: The Difference Between Science and Pseudoscience: by Michael Shermer (1998)

A Defense of Naturalism: by Keith Augustine
“In metaphysics, naturalism typically takes a form of materialism or physicalism: Everything that exists is either physical or supervenient upon the physical. Naturalism in epistemology contends that the role of epistemology is to describe how knowledge is obtained rather than to set out a priori criteria for the justification of beliefs… In this essay I will be concerned with naturalism in the philosophy of religion, where other basic metaphysical and epistemological issues will arise.”

Methodological Naturalism?: by Alvin Plantinga
“[S]cience is said to be religiously neutral, if only because science and religion are, by their very natures, epistemically distinct. In many areas, science is anything but religiously neutral; moreover, the standard arguments for methodological naturalism suffer from various grave shortcomings.”

Naturalism is Today an Essential Part of Science: by Steve Schafersman “Naturalism is, ironically, a controversial philosophy… most people, including some scientists, refuse to systematically understand naturalism and its consequences. This paper proposes to show that naturalism is essential to the success of scientific understanding, and it examines and criticizes the claims of pseudoscientists and theistic philosophers that science should employ supernatural explanations as part of its normal practice.”

Review of Naturalism: A Critical Analysis: by Graham Oppy
Oppy reviews Moreland’s and Craig’s anthology attacking naturalism.

Theology and Falsification: by Antony Flew
“A fine brash hypothesis may thus be killed by inches, the death by a thousand qualifications. And in this, it seems to me, lies the peculiar danger, the endemic evil, of theological utterance. Take such utterances as ‘God has a plan,’ [or] ‘God created the world,’…They look at first sight very much like assertions, vast cosmological assertions. Of course, this is no sure sign that they either are, or are intended to be assertions.”

When Faith and Reason Clash: by Alvin Plantinga
“My question is simple: how shall we Christians deal with apparent conflicts between faith and reason, between what we know as Christians…what we know…about God, and what we know by faith, by way of revelation, as well as know in other ways. In many areas, this means that Christians must rework the [question of origins and methodology] from this [theistic] perspective.”

When Faith and Reason Cooperate: by Howard Van Till
“This question regarding the proper epistemological role of the biblical text in the formulation and evaluation of theories—especially of scientific theories—deserves far more attention than Plantinga gives it in this particular paper. One thing, however, seems clear to me: framing the Christian critique of evolutionary theories in the rhetoric of faith vs. reason offers little hope for growth in our reasoned understanding of either the Scriptures or the Creation.”

Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural: by Mark I. Vuletic
Departing from the opinion of most Naturalist philosophers, Vuletic maintains that methodological naturalism is “capable of leading to both the falsification and the confirmation of a large number of supernatural hypotheses.”

Darwin Re-crucified: Why Are So Many Afraid of Naturalism?: by Paul Kurtz  “A disturbing new dimension has emerged in the creation/evolution controversy. The crusade against Darwinism is no longer the sole preserve of fundamentalist Christians, for many influential religious conservatives have now joined in the fray. One hundred sixteen years after Darwin’s death, efforts to crucify him continue unabated. The main complaint of religious conservatives is that the theory of evolution is allied with naturalism, and this is inconsistent with their theistic faith.”

The New Antievolutionism: speech by Michael Ruse
“I think that one can in fact defend a scientific and naturalistic approach, even if one recognizes that this does include a metaphysical assumption to the regularity of nature. . . but I don’t think it helps matters by denying that one is making it. And I think that once one has made such an assumption, one has perfect powers to turn to, say, creation science, which claims to be naturalistic also, and point out that it’s wrong.”

Commentary on Methodological Materialism: by Eugenie Scott
“If we are allowed to attribute causation to an omnipotent force, there is no point in looking for a natural explanation. And guess what: if you don’t look, you’re guaranteed not to find one! We have found that we get much farther in science by not relying upon supernatural explanations: for practical reasons, we restrict ourselves to methodological materialism.”


The Debates

NOVA Online: A Cyber Debate “How Did We Get Here?” (1996).
“In 1996, NOVA Online asked two leading spokesmen in the evolution/creation debate to discuss the question, “How did we get here?” The participants have agreed to keep their letters to less than 500 words and have been given equal time to write them.”

Talk of the Nation: “The Politics of Evolution” (August 16, 1999).
“More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not compel the teaching of creationism in public schools. Since then Creationists have adopted a new strategy: trying to keep Darwinism out rather than forcing creationism into the curriculum. The strategy has recently paid off, as the Kansas Board of Education voted to delete virtually all references to evolution in its curriculum last Wednesday. Join Ray Suarez as he discusses the politics of teaching evolution with Russel Lewis, Wayne Carlie and Stephen C. Meyer, professor of Philosophy at Whitworth College.”

Talk of the Nation: “Scopes Trial 75th Anniversary” (July 21, 2000).
“In 1925, John Scopes was tried for teaching the theory of evolution in a Tennessee public school. Join Ira Flatow and Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward Larson in this hour for a look back at the trial on its 75th anniversary, and at the ongoing battle over teaching evolution in the public schools. Plus, a talk with Kenneth Miller, author of the recent book Finding Darwin’s God (1999), and Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box (1996), as they debate the issue of Darwinism and the theory of ‘intelligent design.'”

The Diane Rehm Show: “Evolution vs. Intelligent Design” (April 18, 2001).
“The theory of evolution has been challenged by people who believe for religious reasons that the creatures of the earth were made, not evolved. Today another group is challenging evolutionary science. They say evolution isn’t a scientifically sound theory, and propose an intelligent design ‘force’ has been at work. Two experts discuss these theories and their implications: Eugenie C. Scott (executive director of the National Center for Science Education) and William Dembski (associate research Professor at Baylor).”

The Meta Library: “Evolution and Providence” (June 2000).
In June of 2000 the CTNS organized and hosted a workshop with the theme “Evolution and Providence.” A panel was put together representing a broad sampling of the various perspectives on creation, evolution and divine-action. The participants included Michael Ruse, Stephen Meyer, Eugenie Scott, Duane Gish, among others. Also available from the Meta Library is an excellent discussion between Michael Behe and Kenneth Miller taken from the “Interpreting Evolution” seminar at Haverford college, June 2001.

The Connection: “Science, Reason and Genetics” (April 17, 2000).
“Richard Dawkins wonders why people consider science so bleakly, thinking it robs life of warmth and worth. To him, science is filled with wonder, beauty, and awe. Dawkins contends that when Newton explained the prism, he didn’t rob the rainbow of its mystery as the poet Keats complained, he opened the door to the greater wonders of relativity and an expanding universe.” (listen)

Racism and Rationality – Introduction

“A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race — and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin.”excerpts from
by Ayn Rand

(An article published in the September, 1963 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter
and included as a chapter in the book, The Virtue of Selfishness )


   Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism.  It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage — the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry.  Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.

  Racism claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical forces beyond his control.  This is the caveman’s version of the doctrine of innate ideas — or of inherited knowledge — which has been thoroughly refuted by philosophy and science.  Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes.  It is a barnyard or stock-farm version of collectivism, appropriate to a mentality that differentiates between various breeds of anmials, but not between animals and men.

    Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty.  Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination.

   The respectable family that supports worthless relatives or covers up their crimes in order to “protect the family name” (as if the moral stature of one man could be damaged by the actions of another) — the bum who boasts that his great-grandfather was an empire-builder, or the small-town spinster who boasts that her maternal great-uncle was a state senator and her third-cousin gave a concert at Carnegie Hall (as if the achievements of one man could rub off on the mediocrity of another) — the parents who search genealogical trees in order to evaluate their prospective sons-in-law — the celebrity who starts his autobiography with a detailed account of his family history — all these are samples of racism, the atavistic manifestations of a doctrine whose full expression is the tribal warfare of prehistorical savages, the wholesale slaughter of Nazi Germany, the atrocities of today’s so-called “newly-emerging nations.”

   The theory that holds “good blood” and “bad blood” as a moral-intellectual criterion, can lead to nothing but torrents of blood in practice.  Brute force is the only avenue of action open to men who regard themselves as mindless aggregates of chemicals.

   Modern racists attempt to prove the superiority or inferiority of a given race by the historical achievements of some of its members.  The frequent historical spectacle of a great innovator who, in his lifetime, is jeered, denounced, obstructed, persecuted by his countrymen, and then, a few years after his death, is enshrined in a national monument and hailed as a proof of greatness of the German (or French or Italian or Cambodian) race — is as revolting a spectacle of collectivist expropriation, perpetrated by racists, as any expropriation of material wealth perpetrated by communists.

   Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement.  There are only individual minds and individual achievements — and a culture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men.

   Even if it were proved — which it is not — that the incidence of men of potentially superior brain power is greater among the members of certain races than among the members of others, it would still tell us nothing about any given individual and it would be irrelevant to one’s judgment of him.  A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race — and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin.  It is hard to say which is the more outrageous injustice: the claim of Southern racists that a Negro genius should be treated as inferior because his race has “produced” some brutes — or the claim of a German brute to the status of a superior because his race has “produced” Goethe, Schiller and Brahms.

   These are not two different claims, of course, but two applications of the same basic premise.  The question of whether one alleges the superiority or the inferiority of any given race is irrelevant; racism has only one psychological root: the racist’s sense of his own inferiority.

    Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned.  It is a quest for automatic knowlege — for an automatic evaluation of men’s characters that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment — and, above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).

   To ascribe one’s virtues to one’s racial origin, is to confess that one has no knowledge of the process by which virtues are acquired and, most often, that one has failed to acquire them.  The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a “tribal self-esteem” by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe.  Observe the hysterical intensity of the Southern racists; observe also that racism is much more prevalent among the poor white trash than among their intellectual betters.

   Historically, racism has always risen or fallen with the rise or fall of collectivism.  Collectivism holds that the individual has no rights, that his life and work belong to the group (to “society,” to the tribe, the state, the nation) and that the group may sacrifice him at its own whim to its own interests.  The only way to implement a doctrine of that kind is by means of brute force — and statism has always been the poltical corollary of collectivism.

   The absolute state is merely an institutionalized form of gang rule, regardless of which particular gang seizes power.  And — since there is no rational justification for such rule, since none has ever been or can ever be offered — the mystique of racism is a crucial element in every variant of the absolute state.  The relationship is reciprocal: statism rises out of prehistorical tribal warfare, out of the notion that the men of one tribe are the natural prey for the men of another — and establishes its own internal sub-categories of racism, a system of castes determined by a man’s birth, such as inherited titles of nobility or inherited serfdom.

   The racism of Nazi Germany — where men had to fill questionnaires about their ancestry for generations back, in order to prove their “Aryan” descent — has its counterpart in Soviet Russia, where men had to fill similar questionnaires to show that their ancestors had owned no property and thus to prove their “proletarian” descent.  The Soviet ideology rest on the notion that men can be conditioned to communism genetically — that is, that a few generations conditioned by dictatorship will transmit communist ideology to their descendants, who will be communists at birth.  The persecution of racial minorities in Soviet Russia, according to the racial descent and whim of any given commissar, is a matter of record; anti-semitism is particularly prevalent — only the official pogroms are now called “political purges.”

   There is only one antidote to racism: the philosophy of individualism and its politico-economic corollary, laissez-faire capitalism.

   Individualism regards man — every man — as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being.  Individualism holds that a civilized society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful co-existence among men, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights — and that a group, as such, has no rights other than the individual rights of its members.  (See my articles “Man’s Rights” and “Collectivized ‘Rights'” in the April and June, 1963, issues of this NEWSLETTER  [or Chapters 12 and 13 of
the book].)

   It is not a man’s ancestors or relatives or genes or body chemistry that count in a free market, but only one human attribute: productive ability.  It is by his own individual ability and ambition that capitalism judges a man and rewards him accordingly.

   No political system can establish universal rationality by law (or by force).  But capitalism is the only system that functions in a way which rewards rationality and penalizes all forms of irrationality, including racism.

   A fully free, capitalist system has not yet existed anywhere.  But what is enormously significant is the correlation of racism and political controls in the semi-free economies of the 19th century.  Racial and/or religious persecutions of minorities stood in inverse ratio to the degree of a country’s freedom.  Racism was strongest in the more controlled economies, such as Russia and Germany — and weakest in England, the then freest country of Europe.

   It is capitalism that gave mankind its first steps toward freedom and a rational way of life.  It is capitalism that broke through national and racial barriers, by means of free trade.  It is capitalism that abolished serfdom and slavery in all the civilized countries of the world.  It is the capitalist North that destroyed the slavery of the agrarian-feudal South in the United States.

   Such was the trend of mankind for the brief span of some hundred and fifty years.  The spectacular results and achievements of that trend need no restatement here.

   The rise of
collectivism reversed that trend.

   When men began to be indoctrinated once more with the notion that the individual possesses no rights, that supremacy, moral authority and unlimited power belong to the group, and that a man has no significance outside his group — the inevitable consequence was that men began to gravitate toward some group or another, in self-protection, in bewilderment and in subconscious terror.  The simplest collective to join, the easiest one to identify — particularly for people of limited intelligence — the least demanding form of “belonging” and of “togetherness” is: race.

   It is thus that the theoreticians of collectivism, the “humanitarian” advocates of a “benevolent” absolute state, have led to the rebirth and the new, virulent growth of racism in the 20th century.

   In its great era of capitalism, the United States was the freest country on earth — and the best refutation of racist theories.  Men of all races came here, some from obscure, culturally undistinguished countries, and accomplished feats of productive ability which would have remained stillborn in their control-ridden native lands.  Men of racial groups that had been slaughtering one another for centuries, learned to live together in harmony and peaceful cooperation.  America had been called “the melting pot,” with good reason.  But few people realized that America did not melt men into the gray conformity of a collective: she united them by means of protecting their right to individuality.

   The major victims of such race prejudice as did exist in America were the Negroes.  It was a problem originated and perpetuated by the non-capitalist South, though not confined to its boundaries.  The persecution of Negroes in the South was and is truly disgraceful.  But in the rest of the country, so long as men were free, even that problem was slowly giving way under the pressure of enlightenment and of the white men’s own economic interests.

   Today, that problem is growing worse — and so is every form of racism.  America has become race-conscious in a manner reminiscent of the worst days in the most backward countries of 19th century Europe.  The cause is the same: the growth of collectivism and statism.

[ … ]

   The existence of such pressure groups and of their political lobbies is openly and cynically acknowledged today.  The pretense at any political philosophy, any principles, ideals or long-range goals is fast disappearing from our scene — and it is all but admitted that this country is now floating without direction, at the mercy of a blind, short-range power-game played by various statist gangs, each intent on getting hold of a legislative gun for any special advantage of the immediate moment.

   In the absence of any coherent political philosophy, every economic group has been acting as its own destroyer, selling out its future for some momentary privilege.  The policy of the businessmen has, for some time, been the most suicidal one in this respect.  But it has been surpassed by the current policy of the Negro leaders.

   So long as the Negro leaders were fighting against government-enforced discrimination — right, justice and morality were on their side.  But that is not what they are fighting any longer.  The confusions and contradictions surrounding the issue of racism have now reached an incredible climax.

   It is time to clarify the principles involved.

   The policy of the Southern states toward Negroes was and is a shameful contradiction of this country’s basic principles.  Racial discrimination, imposed and enforced by law, is so blatantly inexcusable an infringement of individual rights that the racist statutes of the South should have been declared unconstitutional long ago.

   The Southern racists’ claim of “states’ rights” is a contradiction in terms: there can be no such thing as the “right” of some men to violate the rights of others.  The constitutional concept of “states’ rights” pertains to the division of power between local and national authorities, and serves to protect the states from the Federal government; it does not grant to a state government an unlimited, arbitrary power over its citizens or the privilege of abrogating the citizens’ individual rights.

   It is true that the Federal government has used the racial issue to enlarge its own power and to set a precedent of encroachment upon the legitimate rights of the states, in an unnecessary and unconstitutional manner.  But this merely means that both governments are wrong; it does not excuse the policy of the Southern racists.

   One of the worst contradictions, in this context, is the stand of many so-called “conservatives” (not confined exclusively to the South) who claim to be defenders of freedom, of capitalism, of property rights, of the Constitution, yet who advocate racism at the same time.  They do not seem to possess enough concern with principles to realize tht they are cutting the ground from under their own feet.  Men who deny individual rights cannot claim, defend or uphold any rights whatsoever.  It is such alleged champions of capitalism who are helping to discredit and destroy it.

   The “liberals” are guilty of the same contradiction, but in a different form.  They advocate the sacrifice of all individual rights to unlimited majority rule — yet posture as defenders of the rights of minorities.  But the smallest minority on earth is the individual.  Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

   This accumulation of contradictions, of short-sighted pragmatism, of cynical contempt for principles, of outrageous irrationality, has now reached its climax in the new demands of the Negro leaders.

   Instead of fighting against racial discrimination, they are demanding that racial discrimination be legalized and enforced.  Instead of fighting against racism, they are demanding the establishment of racial quotas.  Instead of fighting for “color-blindness” in social and economic issues, they are proclaiming that “color-blindness” is evil and that “color” should be made a primary consideration.  Instead of fighting for equal rights, they are demanding special race privileges.

 [ … ]

   Racial quotas have been one of the worst evils of racist regimes.  There were racial quotas in the universities of Czarist Russia, in the population of Russia’s major cities, etc.  One of the accusations against the racists in this country is that some schools practice a secret system of racial quotas.  It was regarded as a victory for justice when employment questionnaires ceased to inquire about an applicant’s race or religion.

   Today, it is not an oppressor, but an oppressed minority that is demanding the establishment of racial quotas. (!)

[ … ]

  It does not merely demand special privileges on racial grounds — it demands that white men be penalized for the sins of their ancestors.  It demands that a white laborer be refused a job because his grandfather may have practiced racial discrimination.  But perhaps his grandfather had not practiced it.  Or perhaps his grandfather had not even lived in this country.  Since these questions are not to be considered, it means that that white laborer is to be charged with collective racial guilt, the guilt consisting merely of the color of his skin.

   But that is the principle of the worst Southern racist who charges all Negroes with collective racial guilt for any crime committed by an individual Negro, and who treats them all as inferiors on the ground that their ancestors were savages.

   The only comment one can make about demands of that kind is, “By what right? — By what code? — By what standard?”

   That absurdly evil policy is destroying the moral base of the Negroes’ fight.  Their case rested on the principle of individual rights. If they demand the violation of the rights of others, they negate and forfeit their own.  Then the same answer applies to them as to the Southern racists: there can be no such thing as a “right” of some men to violate the rights of others.

[ … ]

   No man, neither Negro nor white, has any claim to the property of another man.  A man’s rights are not violated by a private individual’s refusal to deal with him.  Racism is an evil, irrational and morally contemptible doctrine — but doctrines cannot be forbidden or prescribed by law.  Just as we have to protect a communist’s freedom of speech, even though his doctrines are evil, so we have to protect a racist’s right to the use and disposal of his own property.  Private racism is not a legal, but a moral issue — and can be fought only by private means, such as economic boycott or social ostracism.

[ … ]

   It is an ironic demonstration of the philosophical insanity and the consequently suicidal trend of our age, that the men who need the protection of individual rights most urgently — the Negroes — are now in the vanguard of the destruction of these rights.

[ … ]

   In conclusion, I shall quote from an astonishing editorial in The N. Y. Times of August 4 [1963] — astonishing because ideas of this nature are not typical of our age:
   “But the question must be not whether a group recognizable in color, features or culture has its rights as a group.  No, the question is whether any American individual, regardless of color, features or culture, is deprived of his rights as an American.  If the individual has all the rights and privileges due him under the laws and the Constitution, we need not worry about groups and masses — those do not, in fact, exist, except as figures of speech.”


The Virtue of Selfishness is available
    “The crude primitivism of supposedly respectable establishments to engage in ‘reverse discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’ in order to allegedly ‘make up for’ the sins of people other than those they actually wind up ‘punishing’ for them, is racism squared, or moral depravity at its worst.  It says, in effect, not only that ‘two wrongs make a right,’ but that racism is okay so long as it’s ‘our’ racism.  It is really an acknowledgment that, even if they tried, they wouldn’t know how to internalize and institutionalize pure character-consciousness or merit-consciousness, let alone how to demonstrate to the world that it can be done.  It is an abject admission of their guilt, real or imagined, and a hope that you, by your silence, share in it, or at least, tacitly condone it.” — Rick Gaber
“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.” — Eric Hoffer

[“Du bist nichts, dein Volk ist alles”  (“You are 
nothing, your race is everything.”) — Adolf Hitler]

     “If anyone insists that racism is valid, that the content of one’s mind is frozen in place by the circumstances of his birth, then the only appropriate response is to say,  ‘Speak for yourself, buddy.  Unless you’re some sort of non-human, you must be speaking for yourself, and since you must regard those thoughts you just uttered as predetermined by your ancestors, you therefore couldn’t possibly know or care if they’re true or not just like a mindless robot programmed to make noises.  Therefore, no one should take what you say any more seriously than robot noises, since your denying the human ability to do independent thinking and discriminate truth from falsehood means only that you have denied it for yourself.  So I will take your word for it, and ignore you.  As for me, I have found to be untrue many things my parents and ancestors believed, and  I had no trouble rejecting those things.  So at least I know damn well — and from first-hand personal experience — that human beings most certainly are capable of doing that.’ ” — Rick Gaber
“The core of racism is the notion that the individual is meaningless and that membership in the collective — the race — is the source of his identity and value. … The notion of  ‘diversity’ entails exactly the same premises as racism — that one’s ideas are determined by one’s race and that the source of an individual’s identity is his ethnic heritage.” — Peter Schwartz in “The Racism of ‘Diversity’,” HERE
“Frankly, I’d be insulted if I were told the reason I was being hired was because of my ancestry.  I would much rather work for someone like T.J. Rodgers, who is known to take time during meetings to tell his staff (which originated from almost every continent in the world) that they’re there because they’re the best at what they do, not because of whoever their ancestors were.” — Rick Gaber 

“Money dissolves skin colour on contact. The fact that Silicon Valley, the freest market in the world, has produced the United Colours of Geek proves it.” — Dan Gardner

“Racism is a variant of collectivism, the doctrine that the individual is valueless [except] as an appendage of a group. One’s ‘race’ is an evaluation based on nonessential attributes … such as the dimensions of facial/physical features and the wavelengths of light reflected by pigmentation.” — Gregory Gerig (emphasis added)
     “The HUMAN  ‘race’ has been in existence in its present form in only an infinitesimal amount of time, evolutionarily speaking.  .  Nonetheless, if everyone could trace his family tree back 70,000 years, let alone 700,000, he will find that the skin colors of his ancestors changed ten or twenty times, probably including every hue and tint you can imagine over and over again.  Likewise for every variation of facial and body type.  Therefore, other than the distinction between Cro-Magnon Man and the recently-extinct Neanderthal Man, there is no such thing as race. There are certainly such things as vastly different cultures, most manifesting dramatically distinct lifestyles and opportunities (or lack of such) for growth, advancement, fulfillment and happiness, but race?  A thoroughly counter-productive, let alone unrealistic, concept.” — Rick Gaber
“People often get racism mixed up with bigotry or prejudice.  We need to get our terminology straightened out.  We obviously have racial problems that need solving.  The first step in solving a problem is to identify it.  If we keep mis-identifying bigotry and prejudice as racism we’ll never make any headway” — Neal Boortz, here“You CAN NOT judge previous generations by today’s standards.  Today Mark Twain is called by many, a racist.  By the standards of his time, he was a social liberal.  Even Teddy Roosevelt was a social liberal at the time, but he accepted as fact that idea that Caucasians were inherently superior to all other races. That makes him a racist in the CORRECT definition of the term.” — Neal Boortz, here

Racism is a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over another.” — Neal Boortz, here
Bigotry: definitions here: # 1: the state of mind of a bigot  # 2: acts or beliefs characteristic of a bigot 
Bigot: definition # 1 here : a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices 
Prejudice: definition # 2 a (1)  here: preconceived judgment or opinion 
Prejudice, n. A vagrant opinion without visible means of support. (Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, c. 1911)
Discrimination: definition # 3 here : Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit 

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” — Mark Twain
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King
“You cannot cure racism with more racism.” — Edwin A. Locke, here

And NOW, a college professor so fed up with the misuse of the term “racism” (as so often slung by certain humorless, self-righteous, perpetually-indignant people who go out of their way to shove their permanent shoulder chips in your face) that he’s come up with his own brand-new, tongue-in-cheek definition of Racism