Thursday, September 29, 2005

'Intelligent Design' Trial Begins Today

Here is the start of my comments [in square brackets] on articles only about the Dover intelligent design trial, Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al. I will try to track this trial's proceeding in chronological order on a day-by-day basis. The heading is already out of date because the trial began three days ago, and so I have a bit of catching up to do.

'Intelligent Design' Trial Begins Today, Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2005, Josh Getlin ... DOVER, Pa. - In the beginning, members of the Dover Area School District board wrangled over what should be required in their high school biology curriculum. Some were adamant that science teachers should stick with the widely taught theory of evolution and random selection. Others said the teaching of "intelligent design" should also be required, arguing that certain elements of life, like cell structure, are best explained by an intelligent cause. The debate had strong religious overtones. "Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on a cross for us," said board member William Buckingham, who urged his colleagues to include intelligent design in ninth-grade science classes. "Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?" Today, a trial begins over the board's decision last year ordering that students be taught about intelligent design and flaws in Charles Darwin's theories. Several parents, fearing the intrusion of religion into public schooling, filed a lawsuit to block the policy, backed by American Civil Liberties Union attorneys. Activists on both sides believe that the stakes are high in the case, which has divided this small rural town about 100 miles west of Philadelphia. The proceedings in a Harrisburg federal court will be the first legal challenge to the mandatory teaching of intelligent design, which is championed by a growing number of Christian fundamentalists. The verdict, to be rendered by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, could have a profound impact on America's cultural wars over religion and its role in public life. Witnesses are expected to debate whether the intelligent-design contention is scientifically valid, or a Trojan horse designed to subvert Darwin's theories. "We're fighting for the 1st Amendment, the separation of church and state, and the integrity of schools," said Philadelphia attorney Eric Rothschild, who is teaming up with a battery of Pennsylvania ACLU lawyers to argue the case. "This trial should decide whether a school board can impose its religious views on other students." The statement on intelligent design approved by the Dover school board was read to ninth-grade science students in January and will be read again this year. It reads in part: "Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in theory exist for which there is no evidence…. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin…. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind." Several days after the board's 6-3 vote approving the intelligent-design resolution, the three dissenting members resigned in protest. ... Board members and their allies also believe that freedoms are at stake. They have blasted the ACLU for seeking a "gag order" on what teachers can say. "This issue is bubbling under the surface all over the country, but the Dover board had the courage of their convictions," said Richard Thompson, chief counsel for the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center. The center promotes and defends the religious freedoms of Christians, he said, and is handling the case pro bono. If all this sounds eerily reminiscent of another case on evolution, it is. Eighty years ago, the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn., tested the legality of a state law banning the teaching of evolution. ... As in Dayton, Dover's politics have been roiled. The pages of area newspapers have been filled with letters pro and con. And the national media have increasingly focused on the case. But there is one notable voice missing from the fray. The Discovery Institute, an influential Seattle-based organization that backs the intelligent-design argument, is not supporting the Dover board. "We oppose any effort to require the teaching of intelligent design," said John G. West, senior fellow at the institute. "This is a sideshow where politicians are trying to hijack and mandate it," he said, adding that the institute is also "appalled" that the ACLU has attempted to block the teaching of intelligent design with a "gag order." ..."I wish it would all go away, to tell you the truth," said Jeff Raffensberger, who ... attended Dover High School. "They should be able to teach all kinds of theories in school, and that's how you learn. There shouldn't be a lawsuit that causes all of this commotion for kids." For Beth Eveland, however, the trial transcends all other issues. She is one of 11 plaintiffs and has two young daughters in the public school system here. "The resolution they passed raises the question of whether a rogue school board that doesn't listen to people can impose their own beliefs," she said. "I care about what my daughters learn in school, and religion doesn't belong in a biology class." In a landmark 1987 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana could not require schools to balance the teaching of evolution with creationism, a Bible-based view of natural history. That case has become a key issue for plaintiffs, who argue that Buckingham's statements revealed the board's similar religious intentions. Attorneys for the school board, however, say intelligent design is different from creationism because it does not mention religion. They also note that Buckingham, who has since left the board and moved, has protested that his comments were taken out of context. ... Other students seemed more focused on the dispute. As he hurried home, ninth-grader Giovanni Herman said he was glad to learn about any biological school of thought. "I know there are a lot of people fighting over this, what we should be taught," he said. "But it's all OK with me. In the end, I think I'll make up my own mind."... [Win, lose or draw, ID cannot lose, and the anti-ID side can only lose (ID and anti-evolution is already banned)! Actually losing could be the best result (especially if it is then appealed to the Supreme Court), as it would evoke sympathy among the public and antipathy towards the Darwinists. Comments about "someone died on a cross for us," while confusing ID with Christianity and creationism by an ex-Board member in a different context (see below), are irrelevant, because ID itself is a scientific theory that there is empirical evidence of design in nature , and is not based on the Bible. If ID is disqualified because of the theistic motivations of some of its proponents, anti-ID (Darwinism) should likewise be disqualified because of the atheistic or naturalistic motivations its proponents. The prosecution lawyer Eric Rothschild is BTW "a member of the Legal Advisory Board of the National Center for Science Education." The ironic parallel between the Scopes trial and this is that then evolution was banned and the ACLU was on the side of freedom of speech, but now anti-evolution is banned and the ACLU is on the side of repression of free speech! I agree with the Discovery Institute that ID should not be mandated, but only if the majority of stakeholders agree, and if evolution is taught, it should be `warts and all ', i.e. its metaphysical assumptions and its problem should also be taught, IOW the controversy should be taught. Eveland and her ilk don't seem to realize that their side is "impos[ing] their own beliefs" (and false naturalistic beliefs at that) on the children of the majority of parents who polls show don't accept Darwinism. The reference to the 1987 Louisiana "balanced treatment" trial is apt, because there it was evolution vs "creation-science", i.e. based on the Bible, but here it is evolution vs. intelligent design which is not based on the Bible or any religious text but solely on the evidence of design in nature. So the crunch is going to be whether teaching (or at least making students aware) of: 1) evidence for design in nature; and 2) evidence against evolution; serves a legitimate "secular purpose". A lot has happened in the ~18 years since then, with: 1) the public increasingly aware of the problems of evolution; 2) the rise of ID (it barely existed in 1987); 3) the increased realization that Darwinism depends on its own anti-religious assumptions and is employed aggressively by atheists (e.g. Dawkins) for that purpose. So I expect that the court will lean more to Scalia and Rehnquist's dissenting opinion in that 1987 case, that "The people of Louisiana [and Pennsylvania], including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools, just as Mr. Scopes was entitled to present whatever scientific evidence there was for it" (see tagline), and will find that both teaching pro-ID and anti-evolution serve a legitimate "secular purpose." Anyway, the ultimate irony of this is it is almost irrelevant whether ID is taught in schools. Both students and parents increasingly get their information from the Internet (including blogs like this) and they will know, or will find out, that there are both problems with evolution and a good case for ID. I will post this for now (I have many other Dover articles to comment on) because I have run out of time. Just think-this is going to go on for five weeks!]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

"In sum, even if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that a majority of the Louisiana Legislature voted for the Balanced Treatment Act partly in order to foster (rather than merely eliminate discrimination against) Christian fundamentalist beliefs, our cases establish that that alone would not suffice to invalidate the Act, so long as there was a genuine secular purpose as well. We have, moreover, no adequate basis for disbelieving the secular purpose set forth in the Act itself, or for concluding that it is a sham enacted to conceal the legislators' violation of their oaths of office. I am astonished by the Court's unprecedented readiness to reach such a conclusion, which I can only attribute to an intellectual predisposition created by the facts and the legend of Scopes v. State, 154 Tenn. 105, 289 S. W. 363 (1927) -- an instinctive reaction that any governmentally imposed requirements bearing upon the teaching of evolution must be a manifestation of Christian fundamentalist repression. In this case, however, it seems to me the Court's position is the repressive one. The people of Louisiana, including those who are Christian fundamentalists, are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their schools, just as Mr. Scopes was entitled to present whatever scientific evidence there was for it. Perhaps what the Louisiana Legislature has done is unconstitutional because there is no such evidence, and the scheme they have established will amount to no more than a presentation of the Book of Genesis. But we cannot say that on the evidence before us in this summary judgment context, which includes ample uncontradicted testimony that "creation science" is a body of scientific knowledge rather than revealed belief. Infinitely less can we say (or should we say) that the scientific evidence for evolution is so conclusive that no one could be gullible enough to believe that there is any real scientific evidence to the contrary, so that the legislation's stated purpose must be a lie. Yet that illiberal judgment, that Scopes-in-reverse, is ultimately the basis on which the Court's facile rejection of the Louisiana Legislature's purpose must rest." (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 594 (1987). Dissenting Opinion by Justice Scalia joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Emphasis original. )

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