Welcome to Terrell Clemmons: Questions on Methodological Naturalism

Of course they do, and should. That isn’t the issue raised in the hypothetical case I proposed. I did not propose, demand or suggest that any ID proponent should receive more lenient treatment regarding academic standards. I asked what would happen to an ID proponent who met all the normal standards and would normally be granted tenure, but whose ID leanings were disclosed before the tenure vote was taken. I certainly would not trust 100% of the biologists and biochemists I have engaged with on origins websites or read in blogs to set aside their revulsion to ID and vote only on the basis of qualifications. If they are any indication of the prejudices that exist in biology departments, I would not give much for the ID proponents’ chances.

But Joshua says that his colleagues at St. Louis would be fair, and would stick to the objective guidelines normally used in tenure decisions. If he is right, then St. Louis is a place I will not have to worry about.

But what about Lehigh? Can we be confident that Behe, who was granted tenure before he started writing books about ID, would have been granted tenure if the first of those books came out before he got it? Even if everything else on his tenure application was exactly the same as it was? Given the visceral and loud public response of his colleagues over the past 20 years, I simply do not have confidence that this would have been the case. I think they would have been very strongly tempted to deny him tenure solely on the basis of his ID position.

Sure there is. Michael Denton would be in the overlap zone of the Venn diagrams. So, suppose for the sake of argument that Denton applied for tenure in some place, and suppose that he met all normal requirements at that particular institution. Do you really believe that his public statements that nature provides evidence (not proof, but evidence) for design would not be held against him by some of the faculty? I think it would be, in most biology departments, though perhaps not in St. Louis, since Joshua assures me otherwise.

I won’t press this further, since we are talking about hypothetical cases and one can only make plausibility arguments. But I certainly have witnessed exactly parallel discrimination in Religious Studies departments (not regarding ID, but regarding sacred cows considered “consensus” scholarship in Biblical studies, etc.), and I know for a fact that it is widespread across the continent and has destroyed academic careers. It is a little much for me to believe that only Arts professors ever let their personal opinions color their hiring decisions, that Science professors are so pure that they never, ever do this or would even dream of doing it. Especially when I’ve read e-mails written by people with Ph.D.s in climatology scheming for how to prevent dissenting views on global warming from ever seeing the light of day, or at least, if they do see the light of day, appear only in journals delegitimized by careful political machinations. I’m sorry, but I know too much about human nature, and especially about academics, to believe that any group of academics, whether biologists or climatologists or anything else, are such paragons of virtue that none of their number would ever let their personal prejudices taint their professional decisions.


Yes, you are correct. Joshua would not agree with me. He and I differ on a great many things.

But I would NEVER give tenure to someone who self-labels I.D.

I would consider it if they label themselves “id, no caps”.

Well, I don’t think that Denton thinks it important to call himself an ID proponent, with caps. Sometimes he writes as if he considers himself an ally of ID proponents rather than an ID proponent himself. But the point is that he makes design arguments. Especially in Nature’s Destiny. And I’m saying that whether he called himself an ID or an id proponent, his conclusions about design in nature would be equally unwelcome to most biologists in secular universities, insofar as they claimed to be derived from studying the scientific data. They would say that the scientific data requires no such conclusion, and in fact points in the direction of non-design.

I know Joshua would not say that, but many biologists would. Joshua would say that science it neutral regarding design or non-design. But T. aquaticus tells us that a nested hierarchy implies non-design. And it’s very clear that people like P. Z. Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Jerry Coyne believe that the scientific data point to non-design. I doubt that Coyne would vote for tenure even for James Shapiro, who is not an ID defender, or for Scott Turner, who is not an ID defender; for Coyne, even though they deny the validity of ID arguments, they still smell suspiciously of design thinking. In that light, it’s pretty clear that for Coyne, Denton’s more direct affirmations of design would be beyond the pale. Even if he said he was id rather than ID.

(For some reason, I did not pick up on your reply when you posted it.)

Actually, you are disagreeing with me, because I believe the reason was already there, infused by my Father for me to find and enjoy and marvel at. Certainly, humans are capable of attributing meaning where there is none, but that does not mean everything is meaningless.

Do you have a scientific reason why our species should even be able to infer meaning at all? Do you have a scientific reason for why we should be able to reason and use abstract logic – to even be able to do science, or for why we should be conscious and self-aware? To be able to marvel?

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ID isn’t science. This is a well established fact. ID is a belief system. Given that a person’s religion can’t be used in hiring decisions, a person’s beliefs shouldn’t be a part of the hiring or tenure process.

Behe is an embarrassment to Lehigh University’s reputation. I am certain that the Administration is doing everything possible to see Behe retire or leave Lehigh University. Look at the website. I am certain that he will be retiring soon or be given the title of Professor emeritus with an office in the basement somewhere and no teaching/research assignments.


It heavily depends on the university. If they are a research focused department looking to hire active researchers then a candidate for tenure would need to show an ability to get grants, and preferably already have active research grants. They would also need to show that they have been producing publications on work that was done at that university.

If it is an undergrad teaching university, then the requirements are very different.

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I guess not, huh.

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I agree with this part of your answer.

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Based on these comments, I think I can safely say that you would agree with when I conjecture that if Behe had published Darwin’s Black Box before his department voted on his tenure, and they knew its contents, he would have been denied tenure. Correct?

Yes, I know, and I already built this into my example, so that my hypothetical department could not use the Gonzalez justifications. But given even a squeaky-clean research record, I still suspect that a number of members of any biology department in a research university would not want an ID proponent as a colleague, and would vote against tenure. I know you said that you personally would not vote against tenure, and I believe you, but I don’t think that is a typical attitude among the biologists I have read who have expressed opinions on origins questions. But possibly the biologists who are loudest on the internet aren’t typical of other biologists.

I suspect that many would not want a colleague that is a proponent of ID, but I think the vast majority of scientists would look past it as long as it didn’t affect the candidate’s scientific output.

Let’s look at this from a different point of view. Let’s say the CDC was looking for someone to fill an important scientific position, and it came out that the candidate was an anti-vaxxer. Would the CDC be within their rights to not select that candidate? Why isn’t it valid to judge the worth of a scientist based on their views as it relates the scientific field in which they work?

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And that’s all I’m asking for.

Regarding you question and comparison:

I haven’t studied the anti-vaccination movement, and I don’t know much about the science (if any) that justifies it. But I gather that for any biologist working in the field of disease, immunization, etc., acceptance of the main outlines of the germ theory of disease, etc. would be necessary. If the anti-vax person denies that diseases are caused by microbes, then I would think he would be so far out of the mainstream that he could not do useful scientific work in the area. (Maybe in some other area of biology, but not that one.) But then, someone who held that view would probably have produced papers denying the germ theory of disease, and those papers would be part of his application for tenure, and I think it would be fair to deny tenure if the papers were lousy. (Not because they disagreed with the majority view, but because they were lousy.)

I don’t think the case is going to be the same for an ID person such as I envisioned in my hypothetical example. The ID person’s specialty might be, say, knockout experiments, where the effects of removing certain genes upon the organism is explored. If the ID person produced an adequate number of research articles in this area, and they were all judged to be of high quality, adding to our stock of knowledge about the relationship between genes and phenotypical expression, then I don’t think it should be held against the ID person that he had somewhere published his personal intellectual conclusion that the whole DNA-protein system was intelligently designed. That belief, whether right or wrong, would not prevent the ID person from producing a lifetime’s worth of knockout experiments that made a real contribution to knowledge. Such knowledge would be objective knowledge, testable and confirmable by researchers in other labs around the world, and so it would be knowledge that all scientists could accept, whether they were ID proponents or not. In such a case, to deny the person tenure, even if some other departmental members would be embarrassed to have an ID proponent on faculty, would in my view be wrong. It would, in effect, be saying: “Even though all your science in the area of research for which you were hired is methodologically sound and we fully accept the results, you draw conclusions (not in your articles about your experiments, and not in your classroom teaching, but elsewhere) about the nature of life and its origin that we find repugnant, and we are going to punish you for that by denying you a scientific career.”

I think that this is wrong, just on general principles of fairness and consistency; and further, from a public relations point of view, if the public thinks that such things happen, it will only lead to further public distrust of science and its practitioners. The public (or a very large portion of it) would regard such a decision as a strong-arm enforcement of conformity of thought and an attack on the idea of a university as a place of great intellectual diversity. It would lead to further charges from fundamentalists and others that scientists are denying jobs to perfectly good colleagues out of a hidden commitment to materialism and atheism. It would fuel the fire of the culture wars. The best thing that biologists could do in such a case would be to give the ID proponent tenure (given that the quality was there, as in my hypothetical case it is); it would make them look much better in the public eye. They might think it would make them look better within their professional world to keep any ID proponent out of work in their department, and maybe it would, but the culture-war cost of the decision would be high in the long run.

I don’t think Darwin’s Black Box was a major problem for Lehigh University. It did give Behe some notoriety and it wasn’t damaging to Lehigh University much at all to have denied tenure to Behe. The real damage came with Behe’s absolutely horrendous testimony in the Dover trial. Behe’s testimony killed ID and Behe’s reputation and with it tarnished Lehigh University.


I’m a little confused about the chronology implied in you remarks.

Behe had tenure at Lehigh before Darwin’s Black Box was published. So they couldn’t have fired him for publishing that book, even if they wanted to. What I was asking was whether you thought they would have denied him tenure if Darwin’s Black Box had come out before they made the decision.

Before you answer, keep in mind that long before the Dover Trial, Darwin’s Black Box drew many hostile reviews. There were criticisms of Paul Gross and Jerry Coyne and Ken Miller and many others. (Also from Allen Orr, though Orr’s critical remarks were phrased in a more gentle and scholarly manner.) The faculty at Lehigh would have known of those reviews. Given that, I think there would have been a strong temptation for them to deny Behe tenure, if the tenure decision had post-dated the book and the hostile reviews. I think Behe chose wisely to wait until he had tenure before airing his thoughts on ID. And he always advises young people (I think Joshua will confirm this, because he had contact with Behe earlier in his life) not to let their ID sympathies be known until they have tenure. He wouldn’t be giving advice like that unless he thought the prejudice in the academic scientific world was real, and serious.

Some people here are assuring us that most biologists are very fair-minded and that if an otherwise qualified applicant endorsed ID, he would still get tenure. I don’t think that is Mike Behe’s perception of the reality in life science departments, and he is in somewhat of a position to know something about them.

I was trying to answer your hypothetical question. I know the timeline quite well. I don’t think Darwin’s Black Box notoriety was Behe’s Waterloo. But certainly the Dover trial was.

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So your answer is that they wouldn’t have denied him tenure, even if they could have, after Darwin’s Black Box, but if he hadn’t had tenure by the time of the Dover Trial, they would have denied him tenure then?

I am sure that if Behe didn’t have tenure when Lehigh’s reputation was being to be tarnished, I am sure the Administration would have put pressure on the Biological Sciences Department to get rid of him. With Behe having tenure it is much harder (legally and monetarily) to get rid of him although not impossible. I am sure that right now, Behe is in negotiations of a “retirement package”. In the end, it is all about the dollars. The university will make it as miserable as possible for Behe to continue while at the same time sweating the deal for him to leave.

Since Behe is 67 years old, and thus at an age when many Americans are thinking about retirement anyway, there is no need to fictionalize any effort on Lehigh’s part to induce him to retire. And if it’s the high salaries of full professors that concern them, then they would be trying to induce not only Behe but all senior professors to retire, and that would have nothing to do with ID or the Dover trial. So Behe and Lehigh may well be talking about a retirement package, but that is very normal between organizations and high-paid senior employees, and it is unlikely that it has anything much to do with ID.

Anyhow, in a roundabout way, you have answered my question: you think there are forces at Lehigh, animated largely by his role in the Dover trial, that would like to get rid of him. And you think that if such forces had the power to do so, they would, and that if he had given his testimony at the Dover trail before being awarded tenure, he would not have his job at Lehigh now. Got it.