Sunday, December 31, 2017

Darwinian Neurobiology Supports Spinoza: Self-Preservation, Freedom of Philosophizing, and Lockean Liberalism

In the fall of 1972, I was in the second year of my graduate work in political science at the University of Chicago; and I was a student in Joseph Cropsey's course on Benedict de Spinoza's Ethics.  I wrote a paper for the course entitled "Spinoza on Preservation," which I typed on my manual Smith-Corona typewriter, using "white-out" to correct my mistakes.  (You millennials out there might have seen an ancient typewriter in a museum or in some old movies.) 

My grade for the paper was A-.  Cropsey had a bad habit of slipping with his pen and leaving a minus mark after writing an A.  (I have written some posts on Cropsey herehere, and here.)

I recently found this yellowed paper in an old file of papers and notes on Spinoza, and I read it for the first time in 45 years.  I was surprised by three discoveries.  First, I was surprised to see how much of my thinking in Darwinian Natural Right and other writings included ideas from Spinoza--particularly, the principle that the good is the desirable as rooted in the evolved biological nature of human beings.

My second discovery was noticing how much of what Spinoza said about the human mind as the activity of the human body and brain has been confirmed by research in neurobiology over the past 40 years, which is the argument of Antonio Damasio in Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (Harcourt, 2003).  In writing Darwinian Natural Right, I was influenced by an earlier book by Damasio--Descartes Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (Putnam's Sons, 1994)--in which he shows that neurobiology refutes Kant's claim that morality depends on pure reason without emotion, and supports Hume's claim that morality depends on reason but also on the moral emotions that arise in the brain to guide us to survival and well-being as social animals.

My third discovery was seeing how Spinoza had formulated most of the foundational ideas for John Locke and the modern liberalism that Locke initiated.  This became especially clear to me recently when I read Wim Klever's unpublished paper "Locke's Disguised Spinozism," which is available online.  To support his assertion that Locke's thinking in The Essay Concerning Human Understanding, The Two Treatises of Government, and The Letter on Toleration derives from his reading of Spinoza, Klever places quotations from Spinoza and Locke side by side to show Locke's borrowing from Spinoza's thought and language. 

When Bishop Stillingfleet accused Locke of "Spinozism" in presenting Revelation as a product of human imagination, Locke responded: "I am not so well read in Hobbes and Spinoza to be able to say what were their opinions in this matter."  But as Klever indicates, the persecution of Spinoza--his reputation as a dangerous atheist, his expulsion from the Synagogue by the Amsterdam Sephardic rabbis, and the suppression of Spinoza's books--would explain why Locke, who himself lived in fear of being arrested and beheaded for his subversive writing, would need to hide his adoption of Spinozist ideas.

This has led me into thinking about how Spinoza's account of the biological nature of self-preservation supports Lockean liberal thought, and of how this might be confirmed by modern Darwinian neurobiology.  I also thought about how the empirical evidence for human progress over the past two centuries might show that the increasing freedom brought by Spinozist and Lockean liberalism has indeed increased the survival and well-being of human beings around the world.

Damasio says that when he was young, he read Spinoza and copied a quotation that he liked.  Years later, he renewed his interest in Spinoza when he decided to check the accuracy of the quotation that he had kept on a yellowed piece of paper.  He found it in The Ethics:  "the foundation of virtue is this very striving to preserve one's own being, and that happiness consists in man's being able to preserve his being" (IV, prop. 18, schol.)

As he continued reading The Ethics, Damasio found a second quotation that appealed to him as a neurobiologist who explains the human mind as the expression of the brain's mappings of the body's striving for survival and well-being: "The object of the idea constituting the human Mind is the Body" (II, prop. 13).  In my next post, I will probe this Spinozist neurophysiology of the mind as grounded in the body, in contrast to the Cartesian separation of the immaterial mind and the material body as two substances.

The first quotation points to how the biological striving to preserve one's own being provides the natural ground for the liberal understanding of the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as rooted in biological self-ownership.  Damasio observes:
". . . It is an affirmation that at the base of whatever rules of behavior we may ask humanity to follow, there is something inalienable: A living organism, known to its owner because the owner's mind has constructed a self, has a natural tendency to preserve its own life; and that same organism's state of optimal functioning, subsumed by the concept of joy, results from the successful endeavor to endure and prevail.  Paraphrased in deeply American terms, I would rewrite Spinoza's proposition as follows: I hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans are created such that they tend to preserve their life and seek well-being, that their happiness comes from the successful endeavor to do so, and that the foundation of virtue rests on these facts.  Perhaps these resonances are not a coincidence" (170-71).
Spinoza recognizes that grounding virtue in the natural concern for oneself will be criticized by those who believe "that this principle--that everyone is bound to seek his own advantage--is the foundation, not of virtue and morality, but of immorality"--the immorality of selfish individualism (IV.prop. 13, school.).  His response to this criticism is to argue that since human beings are naturally social animals who need the cooperation of others, "to man, then, there is nothing more useful than man," and man "can wish for nothing more helpful to the preservation of his being than that all should so agree in all things that the Minds and Bodies of all should strive together, as far as they can, preserve their being; and that all, together, should seek for themselves the common advantage of all."  Therefore, those men who are governed by reason in seeking their own advantage "want nothing for themselves that they do not desire for other men." 

This striving to leave in peaceful mutual cooperation with others is an extension of the striving to preserve oneself.  Evolutionary theorists today recognize this as showing the evolved propensity for cooperation based on kinship, mutual aid, and reciprocity.  The propensity to reciprocity includes the right to punish cheaters who are not trustworthy cooperators.

In the state of nature without government, human beings can enforce the natural law of cooperation by rewarding those who are cooperative and punishing those who cheat or aggressively attack others; and thus the state of nature can be a state of peace. But since many people are not rational enough to obey this natural law, the state of nature can become a state of war.  To escape this state of war, people can consent to a government to secure their natural rights through enforcing formal laws for peaceful cooperation and the punishment of aggressors.  Government thus rests on a social contract.

Hobbes had also argued for government being based ultimately on consent, but the difference between Hobbes and Spinoza was that unlike Hobbes, as Spinoza said, "I always preserve natural right unimpaired" (letter 50).  Even when they live under an established government, people have a natural right to resist oppression, and when government becomes too oppressive, it will so provoke the people that they will rebel and seek a new government better designed for their safety and happiness.

Another difference from Hobbes is that Spinoza, in The Political Treatise, ranked monarchy as the least desirable form of government, aristocracy as a better form of government, and democracy as the best.  Spinoza was thus the first major philosopher to clearly and forcefully endorse democracy as the best form of government.  He conceded, however, that in certain historical circumstances monarchy could be best for a society.

Spinoza suggested that the fundamental principle of politics is that the power of political leaders depends on their having the support of what some political scientists today call a "minimum winning coalition." (I have written about that here.)  No ruler can rule alone.  Even an absolute dictator needs a small coalition of powerful people who are loyal to him, and so the dictator must do everything necessary to win and maintain their loyalty.  Consequently, the private interest of the dictator's small coalition of supporters is advanced at the expense of the public interest of the people at large, and that provokes resentment among the people who will become rebellious.  For that reason, the larger the minimum winning coalition supporting a government, the more powerful it is.  Democracy approaches being the most absolute form of government.

Spinoza saw a liberal democracy as the best form of government, because it is "the most  natural state," "the one which approached most nearly the freedom nature concedes to everyone" (Theological-Political Treatise, xvi, 36).  This idea that a modern liberal democracy approaches the freedom that human beings enjoyed in the state of nature of human hunter-gatherer ancestors has been part of my argument for the evolution of Darwinian liberalism.

Another difference from Hobbes is that while Hobbes denied that there was any highest good (summum bonum) for life (Leviathan xi, 1), Spinoza affirmed that the philosophic or scientific life of understanding the laws of nature was the perfection of our nature and thus our highest end, and that a liberal democracy that cultivates the arts and sciences and secures the freedom for philosophizing allows those few human beings capable of such philosophizing to achieve that highest human life (TTP iv, 9-12).  (Locke agreed that "the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness" [ECHU 2.21.51].)

The Dutch Republic had moved far towards such intellectual freedom--providing refuge for people like Locke--but still, as Spinoza's life indicated, even the Dutch Republic put some limits on freedom of thought and expression.  Spinoza's primary aim was to promote the future achievement of a "free republic" where "everyone is permitted to think what he wishes and to say what he thinks" (TTP xx). 

So while Spinoza's life did illustrate what Leo Strauss saw as "persecution and the art of writing," Spinoza foresaw that the future triumph of liberalism would secure a liberty for the philosophic life that would make esoteric writing unnecessary.  I have argued for this in some posts  here and here.  I have also argued, against Strauss and the Straussians, that this shows how the bourgeois virtues of a liberal open society include the moral and intellectual virtues of  the highest human excellence (here).

In a series of posts in November and December of 2016, I surveyed the empirical evidence for human progress through the Liberal Enlightenment of the past two centuries.  We have more freedom--both personal freedom and economic freedom--that has promoted human survival and well-being more fully than ever before in human history.  We have more lives and longer lives.  Life is healthier.  Life is richer and less impoverished. Life shows more equality of opportunity.  There is more freedom for people to think what they wish and to say what they think.

Spinoza was right.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Von Economo Neurons: The Neural Basis for Self-Awareness, Social Awareness, and the Moral Sense?

In the summer of 1996, I participated in a Summer Institute on the Biology of Human Nature at Dartmouth College, directed by Roger Masters and Robert Perlman.  At the time, I was finishing my book manuscript Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature; and this Summer Institute helped me think through many of the questions for the book, including the fundamental question of the biological basis for the human mind and morality.

We spent one afternoon at a human dissection lab at Dartmouth Medical School, where a professor of neurology guided us in our dissection of two human brains.  We talked about how the human brain compares with the brains of other animals.  And we asked what might make the human brain unique.  As we sliced up these brains, I remember asking myself: Where's the soul?  How does the soul or mind arise in the evolution of the brain?

At one point, the neurology professor suggested that part of the answer as to the uniqueness of the human brain might be special neurons--particularly, "spindle neurons" that seem to facilitate fast communication across distant neural networks in the large human brain, neurons that are found only in certain areas of the human brain and possibly in some other primate brains.  Looking back on this, I assume that the professor had read a recently published article on spindle neurons in the human anterior cingulate cortex (Nimchinsky et al. 1995).

I was intrigued by this, and I wanted to learn more.  But as far as I could tell, there wasn't much research on these spindle neurons.  Only recently, have I discovered that over the past 15 years there has been intense study of these neurons.  Although the conclusions remain very speculative, there is evidence that these neurons provide some of the neural basis for human self-awareness, social awareness, and the moral sense.

As I have often argued on this blog--most recently in response to Roger Scruton's claim that biological science cannot study the human mind--this sort of research shows how evolutionary biologists can explain the evolutionary emergence of the human mind in the primate brain and body, although the inward experience of subjective self-awareness will always remain somewhat mysterious.

A Cartoon of Von Economo (Spindle) Neurons with Only a Single Dendrite Compared with Pyramidal Neurons with Many Dendrites

The mystery is that while each of us has direct access to our own subjective consciousness, we cannot directly observe the conscious experience of anyone else.  So when neuroscientists put someone in a functional MRI brain scanning machine, the scientists can see what parts of the brain light up in the brain images as indicating neural activity, but they cannot see what the person is thinking or feeling, and so they must ask that person to report what he or she was thinking or feeling. The scientists can then infer that the observed patterns of neural activity are somehow correlated with the reported thoughts and feelings.

Scientists have observed that the anterior insular cortex (AIC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) on both sides of the brain are jointly active in most functional imaging studies, and that the AIC supports emotional feelings, self-awareness, and social awareness.  Moreover, they have observed that these two parts of the brain have a high concentration of spindle neurons that are not found anywhere else in the brain, except for small numbers in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

Spindle neurons are also called von Economo neurons (VENs), because Constantin von Economo provided the first comprehensive description of these neurons in 1925 (Seeley et al. 2012).  It was not until the end of the 20th century, however, that comparative neurologists began to study VENs as special neurons that might be part of what explains the evolutionary uniqueness of the human mind.

VENs appear in the brains of only a few species.  They are present in gorillas, bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans, although in numbers smaller than for humans.  They are also found in the brains of whales, dolphins, and elephants.  Thus, VENs are associated with species that have large brains, which suggests the possibility that VENs facilitate speedy communication of neural signals over neural networks scattered over large brains.  VENs are also associated with species that have complex social lives and that show mirror self-awareness (recognizing themselves in mirrors).  This supports the speculation that VENs allow animals to self-consciously navigate successfully through complex social interactions.  This fits with the "social brain hypothesis" of Robin Dunbar--the idea that the evolution of large and complex brains arose primarily as an adaptation for the mental challenges of social life (Allman et al. 2010; Bauernfeind et al. 2013; Cauda et al. 2014; Chen 2009; Craig 2015, pp. 217-19; Dunbar and Shultz 2007).  (I have written a post on Dunbar's presentation of his theory at the 2013 conference of the Mont Pelerin Society in the Galapagos Islands.)

Allman et al. (2010, pp. 496-97) have argued that the VENs in the anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex are activated either by social error--by some defect in an individual's social network--or by social success--by some satisfying experience in a social network:
". . . For example, these structures are activated by resentment (Sanfey et al. 2003), deception (Spence et al. 2001), embarrassment (Berthoz et al. 2002), and guilt (Shin et al. 2000).  They are also activated by feelings of empathy for the suffering of others, another type of social error signal (Singer et al. 2004).  In mothers, FI in the right hemisphere responds to the crying of distressed infants (Lorberbaum et al. 2002), which is a powerful social error signal.  The anterior insula (including both superior and inferior components) was activated when partners in the prisoner's dilemma game failed to reciprocate cooperative moves made by the subject, which is a type of social error signal (Rilling et al. 2008).  Anterior insula and anterior cingulate cortex are also activated by pro-social signals, such as love and trust (Bartels and Zeki 2004; Singer et al. 2004), which suggests that these structures register both negative and positive aspects of the states of social networks.  The responses of FI and LA are parametrically related to how humorous subjects judge cartoons to be; the humorous content of the cartoons typically involved social errors (Watson et al. 2007)."
Here the VENs are associated with the moral emotions of social life such as guilt, shame, resentment, sympathy, love, and a sense of humor.

There are few VENs in human infants at birth.  The number of VENs increases rapidly during the first eight months of life, and they reach adult numbers at about four years of age.  The number is extremely variable between individuals, which might explain individual variability in the acuteness of self-awareness and social awareness (Allman et al. 2011).

Another way to infer the functional activity of VENs is to notice how the degeneration of VENs leads to distinctive kinds of mental disorders.  For example, early behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia arises from the degeneration of VENs in the anterior insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex.  People with frontotemporal dementia suffer a breakdown in their social character, showing a loss of self-conscious emotional control, social empathy, and emotional self-awareness.  They become insensitive, erratic, and irresponsible in ways that can destroy their social lives by breaking up their family lives and their professional careers.  This can be seen as additional evidence for seeing the evolution of VENs in humans as part of the evolution of the social brain (Kim et al. 2012).

Seeing people with severe forms of mental disorder like frontotemporal dementia is disturbing, because it raises the question of whether they have lost their souls, from having lost the neural activity that supports the self-awareness, social awareness, and moral sense that constitute the healthy human mind.

VENs seem to be a crucial part of that neural activity, and therefore the evolution of VENs must be part of the emergent evolution of the mind in the primate brain.

Some of my other posts on the evolution of the mind can  be found hereherehere, and here.

Most of the research that I have reported here relies heavily on brain imaging.  I have argued against the fallacy of seeing brain imaging as mind reading herehere, and here.


Allman, John, et al. 2010. "The von Economo Neurons in Frontoinsular and Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Great Apes and Humans." Brain Structure and Function 214:495-517.

Allman, John, et al. 2011. "The von Economo Neurons in the Frontoinsular and Anterior Cingulate Cortex." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1225:59-71.

Bartels, A., and S. Zeki. 2004. "The Neural Correlates of Maternal and Romantic Love." Neuroimage 21:1155-1166.

Bauernfeind, Amy L., et al. 2013. "A Volumetric Comparison of the Insular Cortex and Its Subregions in Primates." Journal of Human Evolution 64:263-79.

Berthoz, S., et al. 2002. "An fMRI Study of Intentional and Unintentional (Embarrassing) Violations of Social Norms." Brain 125:1696-1708.

Cauda, Franco, et al. 2013. "Functional Anatomy of Cortical Areas Characterized by Von Economo Neurons." Brain Structure and Function 218:1-20.

Chen, Ingfei. 2009. "Brain Cells for Socializing." Smithsonian Magazine, June 2009.

Craig, Arthur D. (Bud). 2015. How Do You Feel? An Interoceptive Moment with Your Neurobiological Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Dunbar, Robin, and S. Shultz. 2007. "Evolution in the Social Brain." Science 317:1344-1347.

Kim, Eun-Joo, et al. 2012. "Selective Frontoinsular von Economo Neuron and Fork Cell Loss in Early Behavioral Variant Frontotemporal Dementia." Cerebral Cortex 22:251-59.

Lorberbaum, J.P., et al. 2002. "A Potential Role for Thalamocingulate Circuitry in Human Maternal Behavior." Biological Psychiatry 51:431-45.

Nimchinsky, E. A., et al. 1995. "Spindle Neurons of the Human Anterior Cingulate Cortex." Journal of Comparative Neurology 355:27-37.

Rilling, J., et al. 2008. "Neural Correlates of the Affective Response to Unreciprocated Cooperation." Neuropsychologia 46:1265-1266.

Sanfey, A. G., et al. 2003. "The Neural Basis of Economic Decision-Making in the Ultimatum Game." Science 300:1755-1758.

Seeley, William W., et al. 2012. "Distinctive Neurons of the Anterior Cingulate and Frontoinsular Cortex: A Historical Perspective." Cerebral Cortex 22:245-50.

Shin, L. M., et al. 2000. "Activation of Anterior Paralimbic Structures During Guilt-Related Script-Driven Imagery." Biological Psychiatry 48:43-50.

Singer, T., et al. 2004. "Brain Responses to the Acquired Moral Status of Faces." Neuron 41:653-62.

Spence, S. A., et al. "Behavioural and Functional Anatomical Correlates of Deception in Humans." NeuroReport 12:2849-2853.

Watson, K. K., et al. 2007. "Brain Activation During Sight Gags and Language-Dependent Humor." Cerebral Cortex 17:314-24.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Progressive View of Presidential Leadership in Claremont Trumpism

The current issue of The New York Review of Books (December 21, 2017) has an article by Jacob Heilbrunn on "Donald Trump's Brains" that identifies the Straussian conservatives associated with the Claremont Institute as the intellectuals with the most influence in the Trump administration.  As its name indicates, The Claremont Review of Books has always tried to be the right-wing alternative to The New York Review of Books.  It is remarkable, therefore, that this article in the New York Review includes a large reproduction of the cover of the spring 2016 issue of the Claremont Review, with its picture of Donald Trump, under the title "Lights. Camera. Faction!"

Heilbrunn gives an accurate account of how the West-Coast Straussians of the Claremont Institute have adopted Trump as their leader.  He fails, however, to notice the fundamental contradiction in their position.  He correctly identifies the Claremont argument that America needs to return to the principles of the American constitutional founding that have been eroded through the corrupting influence of American progressive thought beginning with Woodrow Wilson.  But he does not notice how their support for Trump's populist leadership depends upon their adopting the progressive view of the president as a "man of the people" whose leadership must transcend the checks and balances of the founders' Constitution.

Heilbrunn does not comment on the picture of Trump on the cover of the Claremont Review:  Trump has the crown of a monarch on his head!  This suggestion that the American president can and should have the royal prerogative powers of a monarch contradicts the argument of the American founders that the president as constrained by the Constitution does not have monarchic powers (as indicated, for example, in The Federalist number 67).  But this does conform to the claim of the American progressives like Woodrow Wilson that the Constitution was flawed in establishing a "leaderless democracy," and that the president needed to break free of the constitutional system in exercising populist leadership.

Moreover, Heibrunn does not notice that this progressivist view of presidential leadership is defended by Charles Kesler in that spring 2016 issue of the Claremont Review.  Kesler speaks of Trump as a "strong leader" in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.  Kesler quotes Wilson's claim that "the President is at liberty to be as big a man as he can," and he quotes Wilson's declaration that "the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent which he chooses to exercise it."  Kesler observes: "'Personal force'--not far from Trump's praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive."

Kesler praises Trump for taking "a tough position in tough terms." After all, Kesler observes, "every republic essentially faces what might be called the Weimar problem.  Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable?"  In such times, the nation needs a "strong leader."

Thus, Kesler implies that Trump is doing for the United States what Adolf Hitler did for Germany.  Hitler promised to make Germany great again.  Like Weimar Germany, the United States needs someone "to be as big a man as he can."  After all, as Trump has said, in one of his favorite quotations from Mussolini, "it is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."

Oddly, in affirming the need for a President acting as a "strong leader" who is free "to be as big a man as he can," Kesler, the West-coast Straussian, seems to be agreeing with Harvey Mansfield, the East-coast Straussian, who has asserted the need for Presidents who  show the "manly nihilism" of "one-man rule."

If this follows from the teaching of Leo Strauss, then Will Altman was right to argue that Strauss was promoting Nazism, because he saw classical liberalism as so decadent that it needed the spirited manliness of Nazism--or  Donald Trump--to save it.  One of the writers at the Journal of American Greatness, in an article on "Paleo-Straussianism," has said of Strauss that "the philosophic mind he admired the most belonged to a Nazi."  Altman has argued that Strauss's praise for Martin Heidegger and his refusal to repudiate Heidegger's Nazism is good evidence for Strauss's acceptance of Nazism, or at least some radically illiberal alternative to the liberal regime.

Altman cited Strauss's comments about how every healthy society must be a "closed society" rather than an "open society."  The Trumpist Straussians seem to conform to this  by agreeing with Trump's claim that to make America great again, America must become a closed society not open to Muslims and immigrants from non-European countries.

And yet, contrary to the Claremont Institute's progressive view of presidential leadership, which would allow Trump "to be as big a man as he can," the first year of Trump's presidency has shown that the constitutional limits on presidential power have frustrated Trump's hopes for one-man rule.  In a recent New York Times article, it is reported: "Mr. Trump's difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government."

It is said that in his first few months in office, Trump regularly barked commands at Senators.  But then, in one meeting, Senator Bob Corker snapped back: "I don't work for you, Mr. President."  In another meeting, Trump repeatedly cut in while Senator Mitch McConnell was making an elaborate presentation on the complexity of health care, until McConnell told the President: "Don't interrupt me."

So maybe the constitutional system of checks and balances really does work as it was intended by the framers to frustrate populist demagogues like Trump.  And maybe we will see that when Trump is impeached or forced to resign.

(In this post, I have used some passages from a previous post.)

Monday, December 04, 2017

The Dishonesty and Sophistry of Stephen Meyer's Intelligent Design Theory

That Stephen Meyer is one of the four authors in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design is fascinating, because these four authors identify themselves as biblical creationists, even though Meyer defends a position--intelligent design theory--that Meyer and its other proponents say is not creationist!

This dishonesty in intelligent design theory--both denying and affirming biblical creationism--is made necessary by the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute, the leading organization promoting intelligent design, where Meyer directs the Center for Science and Culture.

The modern intelligent design movement in America originated with William Jennings Bryan, an evangelical Christian, and a three-time presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, who took the side of the "fundamentalist" Christians, who defended a literal interpretation of the Bible as the inerrant word of God against the "modernist" interpretation of the Bible as compatible with modern science, and particularly the modern science of evolution.  The modernists defended a theistic evolutionism, and Deborah Haarsma's evolutionary creation could be seen as belonging to that modernist tradition of thought.

Continuing the tradition started by Plato, Bryan developed the four arguments that constitute the rhetoric of intelligent design.  (I have elaborated these points in chapter 7 of Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question.)  His scientific argument was that the Darwinian theory of evolution was not truly scientific because it was based not on empirical evidence but on the dogmatic commitment to a materialistic naturalism.  His religious argument was that Darwinism promoted atheism by denying the truth of the Bible, and particularly by denying the biblical teaching that human beings were specially created by God in His image.  His moral argument was that the atheistic materialism of Darwinism was morally corrupting.  His political argument was that teaching Darwinism in the public schools was undemocratic, because it violated the wishes of the majority of parents, and because it denied the moral and religious principles of American political life as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

This fundamentalist attack on Darwinism led to the dramatic trial of John Scopes in 1925 in Dayton, Tennesse.  Scopes was tried for violating a Tennessee law that make it a misdemeanor for public school teachers "to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man had descended from a lower order of animal."  Bryan acted as a lawyer for the prosecution against Scopes, while Clarence Darrow joined the lawyers defending Scopes.  Scopes was convicted, although his conviction was overturned on a technicality by the Tennessee Supreme Court.  Many states continued to enact laws prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the public schools.

The publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications by John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris sparked a revival of scientific creationism, which stressed Bryan's scientific argument against Darwinism--the claim that the biblical creation story was actually more scientific than Darwinian evolution, and therefore that biblical creation should be taught as science in public school biology classes.

Creationists supported "balanced treatment" laws dictating that creation science be taught as a scientific alternative to Darwinian science in public school biology classes.  Such a state law in Arkansas was struck down as unconstitutional in 1982 in a federal district court case McLean v. Arkansas, because teaching creationism was said to be an unconstitutional establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.  The state of Arkansas did not appeal this decision, and so it did not reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1987, in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Edwards v. Aguillard, the creationists thought they had a better chance of winning, because the Louisiana law at issue in this case did not mandate the teaching of creation science, but it did require that if evolutionary science was taught in a public school biology class, creation science would have to be taught as an alternative.  In a 7-2 decision (with Antonin Scalia and William Rehnquist dissenting), the Court decided that teaching scientific creationism did violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because the primary intent was to teach a particular religious doctrine.  It also held, however, that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."

Creationists saw that this left an opening for a new rhetorical strategy: if they adopted Bryan's scientific argument and claimed that creationist science was a strictly scientific position that did not depend on biblical teaching, they might justify teaching creationism in public schools as "validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction."  Stephen Meyer and others who established the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture decided that the best way to do this would be to avoid the term "creationism" and, instead, to use the term "intelligent design," so that there would be no explicitly religious language of God as Creator.

The success of this rhetorical strategy depends on covering up the dishonesty of this strategy.  Meyer does this by insisting that his personal belief in biblical creationism is completely separate from his purely secular scientific argument for intelligent design, because the reasoning for intelligent design theory does not depend necessarily in any way on any belief in the supernatural.  And, therefore, he insists, the intelligent design argument of the Discovery Institute is not a deceptive rhetoric strategy of creationists to get around the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard , so that scientific creationism can be taught under the guise of intelligent design in the public school biology classes.

To support this conclusion, Meyer claims that a book by Charles Thaxton, Walter Bradley, and Roger Olsen--The Mystery of Life's Origin--"marked the beginning of interest in the contemporary theory of intelligent design" (198).  And since this book was published in 1984, three years before the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, Meyer observes, this proves that the intelligent design argument was not devised as a disguised form of creationism to evade that decision (179).

Meyer points to the Epilogue of The Mystery of Life's Origin as presenting the "radical alternative" to evolution (198).  But Meyer is silent about the fact that this Epilogue explicitly appeals to the idea of "Special Creation by a Creator beyond the cosmos" (Thaxton et al., 188, 196, 200, 209).  So this book was explicitly a creationist book, in which terms like "intelligent cause" were terms for the Creator.  This is what I mean by Meyer's dishonesty.

Similarly, Meyer is silent about the biblical Creationism in the founding statement of the Center for Science and Culture--"The Wedge Document," which can be found online.  The cover page has a reproduction of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam fresco for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which makes clear the Creationist doctrine.  The opening line of the document affirms "the proposition that human beings are created in the image of God."  Meyer is identified as the Director of the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.  And the primary goal of the Center is declared to be "to defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies," and "to replace materialistic explanation with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

Meyer is also silent about the evidence supporting the decision in 2005 in the federal district court case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Distinct that a public school endorsement of an intelligent design textbook--Of Pandas and People--as teaching an alternative to evolutionary science was actually an unconstitutional establishment of creationist religion.  The first versions of this book were written prior to the decision in Edwards v. Aguillard, with the hope that a favorable court decision would allow this book to be taught in public schools as a supplementary textbook promoting creation science.  But when the court decision turned out to be unfavorable to the public-school teaching of creationism, the manuscripts for the book were revised so that the words "creationism" and "creation proponents" were replaced by the words "intelligent design" and "intelligent design proponents."  When the evidence for this was presented at the Dover trial, this made it clear that using the term "intelligent design" was a rhetorical strategy for promoting creationism disguised as a purely secular science.

Even if one sets aside the dishonesty of this rhetorical strategy, and looks at Meyer's substantive arguments for intelligent design theory as a real science, one can see the fundamental sophistry in his reasoning.  Intelligent design reasoning depends completely on the fallacy of negative argumentation from ignorance, in which intelligent design proponents argue that if evolutionary scientists cannot fully explain the step-by-step evolutionary process by which complex living forms arise, then this proves that these complex forms of life must be caused by the intelligent designer.  This is purely negative reasoning because the proponents of intelligent design are offering no positive explanation of their own as to exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer caused these forms of life.

For example, Meyer points out that building a new animal form requires not just new genes and proteins but also integrated networks of genes and proteins called developmental gene regulatory networks (dGRNs).  He then argues that building a new dGRN from a preexisting dGRN requires altering the preexisting dGRN in some way that is likely to be catastrophic.  "Given this, how could a new body plan--and the new dGRN necessary to produce it--ever evolve from a preexisting body plan and dGRN?  Neither mainstream evolutionary biologists, nor evolutionary creationists have answered this question." 

If evolutionists cannot answer this question, Meyer assumes, this proves intelligent design.  But notice that Meyer does not himself answer the question that he poses to the evolutionists.  Exactly how could a new body plan--and the new dGRN necessary to produce it--ever be created by the Intelligent Designer from a preexisting body plan and dGRN?  Meyer cannot answer this question, because he cannot explain exactly where, when, or how the Intelligent Designer achieves all of the miraculous effects attributed to Him by the proponents of intelligent design.  Meyer insists that the proponents of evolutionary science satisfy standards of proof that he and his fellow proponents of intelligent design cannot satisfy, because his sophistical strategy is to put the burden of proof on his opponents, while refusing to accept that burden of proof for himself.

Meyer admits that this argument from ignorance is a fallacy.  But he tries to argue that proponents of intelligent design theory do not really commit this fallacy, because they offer explanations with positive content:
". . . Proponents of intelligent design also offer design because we know that intelligent agents can and do produce specified information-rich systems.  As the information theorist Henry Quastler observed, 'Information habitually arises from conscious activity.'  Indeed, we have positive, experience-based knowledge of an alternative cause sufficient to have produced the effect in question--and that cause is intelligence or mind.  Thus, design theorists infer intelligent design not just because natural processes do not explain the origin of specified information in biological systems, but also because we know, based upon our uniform experience, that intelligent agents, and only intelligent agents, produce this effect.  That is to say, we have positive experience-based knowledge of an alternative cause (intelligence) that is sufficient to produce specified information" (204).
Notice Meyer's subtle use of the fallacy of equivocation here--in the equivocation between human intelligent design and supernatural intelligent design.  We have all had the experience of how human intelligent agents create artificial products by intelligent design.  But it does not follow logically from this that we have all had the experience of how supernatural intelligent agents create artificial products by intelligent design.

Consider a slight alteration in the last sentence in the passage quoted above.  "That is to say, we have positive experience-based knowledge of an alternative cause (human intelligence) that is sufficient to produced specified information."  Well, of course, we would all have to agree with that statement.  But what about this--"That is to say, we have positive experience-based knowledge of an alternative cause (supernatural intelligence) that is sufficient to produce specified information"?  There is no good reason for all of us to agree with that statement.  The fallacy of equivocation here is Meyer's implicit assumption that since we all have "positive experience-based knowledge" of human intelligent agency, we therefore all have "positive experience-based knowledge" of supernatural or divine intelligent agency.  The entire argument for the intelligent design explanation of the universe depends on this fallacious inference.

Consider also this remark by Meyer as illustrating this equivocation:
". . . We would not say, for example, that an archeologists had committed a 'scribe of the gaps' fallacy simply because--after rejecting the hypothesis that an ancient hieroglyphic inscription was caused by a sand storm--he went on to conclude that the inscription had been produced by a human scribe.  Instead, we recognize that the archeologist has made an inference based upon his experience-based knowledge that information-rich inscriptions invariably arise from intelligent causes, not solely upon his judgment that there are no suitably efficacious natural causes that could explain the inscription" (205).
Well, yes, again, we would all agree with this statement.  But what if we inserted "divine scribe" in place of "human scribe"?  That's different.  Because while we have "experience-based knowledge" of how human intelligent causes work, we don't have "experience-based knowledge" of how divine intelligent causes work.  The rhetoric of intelligent design theory depends on our not recognizing the equivocation here.

William Dembski has said: "The point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences."  This rhetorical strategy hides the fact that while detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and logic, detecting the design of divine artifacts is not.

So what would have to be done to turn intelligent design theory--or any other form of creationism--into a real science?  Hugh Ross in Four Views provides a good answer:
"According to famed physicist Paul Davies, anyone presenting a model identifying the designer, citing specific dates, locations, and means of design, showing how their model could be falsified, and making short-range predictions of what scientists should discover (distinct from other models' predictions), has earned a seat at the science research and education tables.  Commitment to such a model opens doors to discussion in public universities.  It also elicits valuable critique from non-Christian research scientists and provides opportunities to draw them toward faith in Jesus Christ" (216).
As long as Meyer and other proponents of intelligent design refuse to offer such a falsifiable model of intelligent design for scientific explanation, their position cannot be taken seriously as real science.