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Objectivism in the Culture: A Man of Science Crusades Against Intelligent Design

Last December, a Pennsylvania Federal District court ruled that the Dover School District cannot teach “intelligent design”–the theory that the complexity of life indicates the existence of a divine “designer”–as a scientific alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Judge John E. Jones argued that intelligent design creationism constitutes a religious as opposed to scientific idea, and that by including it in their science curriculum the school district violated the U.S constitutional ban against the advocacy of religion in state schools.

Watching the case closely was Dr. Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute, a man who has dedicated himself to educating people about the nature of the intelligent design movement.

Drawing on his extensive background in both science (he holds a Ph.D. in physics and has taught courses on the history of science) and the philosophy of Objectivism (he is an instructor at the Objectivist Academic Center), he has published articles and lectured widely on the growing threat of intelligent design creationism.

One of Lockitch’s most popular and published op-eds “The Bait and Switch of ‘Intelligent Design,'” is included in this current issue of The Undercurrent. Readers are encouraged to refer to that for an account of Lockitch’s position.

Two months ago, Lockitch gave a lecture to an Orange County audience in which he argued that the reason intelligent design’s growing popularity is a threat is because it is one manifestation of a deeper threat: the growing popularity of religious ideas and values in general. Local writer Robert Camp, who attended the talk, took offense at this idea and published an impassioned critique in the Orange County Register (Dec 2). Camp denied Lockitch’s premise that intelligent design’s essential danger was its religiosity and argued that the theory should be opposed only on scientific grounds, without appeal to broader criticisms of its religious roots. Lockitch’s response to this criticism was unequivocal: “[T]he view that ‘intelligent design’ is a scientific position, to be answered with scientific arguments, is…precisely the view its promoters are desperate to convey…[O]ne cannot properly oppose the efforts of ‘intelligent design’ creationists without rejecting their attempt to make the ‘supernatural’ part of science.”

Lockitch was similarly questioned about his antipathy to religion at a recent talk at New York University (NYU). Kara Zavarella, the President of the NYU Objectivist Club (which hosted the talk), commented that “a number of questioners challenged the viewpoint that religion is incompatible with science… many were struck by the way Dr. Lockitch consistently and adamantly upheld his position.”

Lockitch does not hesitate to name what he thinks is the proper alternative to religion. He argues that science implicitly assumes a secular, pro-reason philosophy such as Objectivism, and that only by making this base explicit can it avoid being undercut by religion. In his words, “Rand’s ethical system–and, more generally, her philosophy of Objectivism–comprises the positive message underlying the ideas presented at my talk.”

Lockitch promises to continue his efforts to oppose the ideas of intelligent design activists. Some commentators have claimed that the Dover area Federal District court ban on teaching these ideas in science classes, which has set a precedent for other states to follow, represents the defeat of the intelligent design movement. When asked by The Undercurrent about whether he agreed with this assessment, Lockitch responded that he did not. “The anti-evolution movement has been around since the Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial eighty years ago. It has staggered on despite dozens of lower court rulings and two major Supreme Court decisions against it. As long as the religious ideology that drives the movement persists, it’s not going away. The Dover decision was certainly a major setback, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of intelligent design creationism.”

Evidence has already substantiated Lockitch’s position. Early this January, the debate over teaching intelligent design in public schools went to the California courts for the first time. This case presents an interesting twist on the controversy: a teacher and minister’s wife in a rural, Fresno high school has organized an entire course advocating intelligent design as a social studies subject, sidestepping the precedent set by the recently affirmed court ban on religion in science classrooms.

The case promises to be interesting for another reason as well: California is Lockitch’s home state. Lockitch plans to watch the case very closely, and promises to continue writing articles and giving talks on the danger of intelligent design creationism. (Readers can check for scheduled talks on the “Speaker Events” page of this and future issues of The Undercurrent.)

Ray Girn is a graduate of the University of Toronto, and now teaches math and science at a private elementary school in Orange County, CA.

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