Sunday, October 16, 2005

Professor slams intelligent design in Penn. Schools, etc

Here are news items all about the Dover case, with my comments in square brackets.

Professor slams intelligent design in Penn. Schools, Washington Post/Reuters, Jon Hurdle, October 12, 2005 .... HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A professor on Wednesday slammed the teaching of intelligent design as a blow to science education as he testified in a lawsuit over whether the theory should be introduced in schools as an alternative to evolution. Teaching intelligent design is "probably the worst thing I have ever heard of in science education," said Brian Alters, who teaches science education at Harvard University and McGill University in Montreal and was called as an expert witness by parents suing the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district. ... In Dover schools, ninth-grade biology students are given a four-paragraph statement suggesting intelligent design as an alternative to evolution and steering them to a book explaining the theory. The district says the policy does not amount to teaching. ... Alters testified the statement amounted to teaching because it was part of the learning process and that teaching the theory may force students to choose between God and science. "Evolution does not deny the existence of God," he said. "It's not about God. You can play the game of science and still have your religious beliefs." Alters warned that high school students who were taught intelligent design may suffer a loss of credibility in college academics by mixing theology and science. "It engenders misconceptions not only about evolution but also about the whole process of science," he said. Alters cited a recent survey by the 50,000-member National Science Teachers Association showing that 31 percent of its members reported being under pressure to teach creationism or other nonscientific beliefs in science classes. In at least 30 U.S. states, proponents of intelligent design are trying to introduce it into classrooms through school boards, state education standards or state legislation. ... [Alters' "Evolution does not deny the existence of God ... It's not about God" is an example of what Johnson calls evolutionists' "The Two-Platoon Strategy", i.e. "When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that ... science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world)":
"The Two-Platoon Strategy for Marginalizing Religion ... The National Academy's way of dealing with the religious implications of evolution is akin to the two-platoon system in American football. When the leading figures of evolutionary science feel free to say what they really believe, writers such as Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin and others state the `God is dead' thesis aggressively, invoking the authority of science to silence any theistic protest. That is the offensive platoons and the National Academy never raises any objection to its promoting this worldview. At other times, however, the scientific elite has to protect the teaching of the `fact of evolution' from objections by religious conservatives who know what the offensive platoon is saying and who argue that the science educators are insinuating a worldview that goes far beyond the data. When the objectors are too numerous or influential to be ignored, the defensive platoon takes the field. That is when we read those spin-doctored reassurances saying that many scientists are religious (in some sense), that science does not claim to have proved that God does not exist (but merely that he does not affect the natural world), and that science and religion are separate realms which should never be mixed (unless it is the materialists who are doing the mixing). Once the defensive platoon has done its job it leaves the field, and the offensive platoon goes right back to telling the public that science has shown that `God' is permanently out of business." (Johnson P.E., "The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2000, pp.87-89).
Apart from the fact that evolution is "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'":
"In one of the most existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that `the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.' Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)
evolution does "deny the existence of God," because evolution is based on the twin (and what's more false) metaphysical assumptions of materialism (matter is all there is = there is no God) and naturalism (nature is all there is = there is no supernatural = there is no God.]

Professor: 'Intelligent design' creates misconceptions, CNews October 12, 2005 HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A school district's policy to read a statement about "intelligent design" to high school science students creates misconceptions about evolution, a Montreal university education professor testified Wednesday in federal court. "I can't think of anything worse for science education than to engender needless misconceptions," said Brian Alters, an associate education professor at McGill University. Alters was a witness for eight families suing to have the concept of intelligent design removed from the curriculum at Dover High School. .... Earlier Wednesday, the school's science department chairwoman, Bertha Spahr, was cross-examined on her prior testimony that the school's science teachers objected to the curriculum change the board approved in October 2004. She said teachers agreed with the school board's idea that there are unanswered questions about the theory of evolution, but were opposed to mentioning intelligent design in class. ... Alters, the professor, called intelligent design a form of creationism because it involves "breaking one of the ground rules of science" - the scientific method - and said that reading a statement about it amounted to teaching. "It's a mini-lecture. I'm not saying it's good teaching, but it's teaching," he said. It is absurd to bring up the topic and not respond to questions from students, he said. ... [Alters contradicts himself: if "Evolution [is] not about God" then what would it matter if "intelligent design [was] a form of creationism", since "creationism" is "about God"? It is simply false of Alters to claim that there is such as thing as "the scientific method" (my emphasis), there are only scientific methods, which vary according to the different subject-matter of each particular science. And there are several sciences that are based on distinguishing between intelligent and unintelligent causes, e.g. "forensic science, cryptography, archeology and ... SETI":
"As a theory of biological origins and development, intelligent design's central claim is that only intelligent causes adequately explain the complex, information-rich structures of biology and that these causes are empirically detectable. To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, based on observable features of the world, can reliably distinguish intelligent causes from undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction-notably, forensic science, cryptography, archeology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Essential to all these methods is the ability to eliminate chance and necessity. Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote a novel about SETI called Contact, which was later made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. The plot and the extraterrestrials, of course, were fictional, but Sagan based the SETI astronomers' methods of design detection squarely on scientific practice. In other words, real-life SETI researchers have never detected designed signals from distant space, but if they encountered such a signal, as the film's astronomers did, they too would infer design. Why did the radio astronomers in Contact draw such a design inference from the beeps and pauses they monitored from space? SETI researchers run signals collected from distant space through computers programmed to recognize preset patterns. Signals that do not match any of the patterns pass through the "sieve" and are classified as random. After years of receiving apparently meaningless `random' signals, the Contact researchers discovered a pattern of beats and pauses that corresponds to the sequence of all the prime numbers between 2 and 101. (Prime numbers are divisible only by themselves and by one.) That grabbed their attention, and they immediately detected intelligent design." (Dembski W.A., "The Design Revolution: Answering the Toughest Questions About Intelligent Design," Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 2004, p.34).
Also, Alters himself knows there is a difference between ID and "creationism", namely "unlike the typical proponents of the creationisms discussed previously, most ID proponents strongly distance themselves from the label `creationist' and often from any overt connections to religious motivations or rationales for their ID conclusions":
"Intelligent Design. In the past decade, many groups advocating different forms of creationism (than we have previously discussed) have become popular. These groups argue that science and science education should include concepts that they call, among other things, `intelligent design theory,' `initial complexity theory,' and `theistic science.' Similar to groups that advocate some form of scientific creationism or progressive creationism, the intelligent design (ID) groups contend that there are compelling scientific arguments and evidence that would lead rational thinking people to conclude that evolution did not occur in the manner normally taught in science classes. However, unlike the typical proponents of the creationisms discussed previously, most ID proponents strongly distance themselves from the label `creationist' and often from any overt connections to religious motivations or rationales for their ID conclusions. ... To some extent, the strategy of intelligent design groups has already been successful. Financial support of their endeavors appears to be growing. Large numbers of people have attended talks by ID leaders, who sometimes draw audiences of up to nearly one thousand. Copies of Phillip Johnson's book Darwin on Trial, an anti-evolution book that has been praised by leaders of the ID movement, have been sent to biology teachers throughout the state of Alabama, courtesy of the state's governor. And for the first time in recent history, a major trade book publisher (The Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.) has published overt intelligent design material. The book is Michael Behe's Darwin's Black Box. In summary, all creationisms are not alike. Creationists' ideas vary significantly with regard to both their religious and nonreligious rationales for rejecting evolution. Likewise, creationists' ideas vary considerably in the extent to which they reject evolution. A better knowledge of these views may provide science instructors with a deeper understanding of their students' rejection of the fundamental concept in the life sciences, which in turn should allow for improved pedagogy." (Alters B.J. & Alters S.M., "Defending Evolution in the Classroom: A Guide to the Creation/Evolution Controversy," Jones & Bartlett Publishers: Sudbury MA, 2001, pp.54-55).
It is pedantic to claim that reading a 1-minute statement of board policy that: 1) there are problems with evolution (which Spahr herself admits); and 2) letting the students know there is ID material in the library; is "teaching"!]

Parents fear intelligent-design backlash, MSNBC, Oct. 14, 2005 ... HARRISBURG, Pa. - A parent who is among eight families suing to have "intelligent design" removed from a school district's biology curriculum said he feared his daughter wouldn't be accepted by other students because of her views. Steven Stough, whose 14-year-old daughter is enrolled in high-school biology this year in the Dover Area School District, testified Friday that she would probably ask to be excused during the reading of the statement concerning intelligent design - unless the policy is overturned by the court. Asked to describe the consequences she would suffer as a result of refusing to hear the statement, Stough said, "She's harmed by that because she's no longer part of the accepted school community." Stough was among the last witnesses called to testify by the plaintiffs' lawyers in the landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be mentioned in public school science classes. Lawyers for the school board expect to begin presenting their case Monday. Like other parents involved in the lawsuit, Stough said he believes intelligent design is essentially the same as Bible-based creationism and that the school board overstepped its bounds when it approved the policy that requires the reading of the intelligent-design statement. "They have usurped my authority to be the one in charge of my daughter's religious education," Stough said. Religion or science? Patrick Gillen, one of the lawyers who represents the school district, asked Stough if his opinion of intelligent design would change if he could show it was based on science. "If you were to show me valid testing that supports intelligent design, yes," Stough responded. ... Another parent, Joel Lieb, testified that he would advise his 13-year-old son to leave class when the statement is read if the policy is in place when he takes ninth-grade biology next year. But Lieb added that regardless of whether his son hears the statement, the policy will disrupt his education. "Every second he's in class listening to it, or out of class protesting it, is a second he's not learning," Lieb said. Scientifically inaccurate? Kevin Padian, a paleontologist and professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. He said "Of Pandas and People" is scientifically inaccurate because it ignores evidence from the fossil record that demonstrates how life forms changed over time. Additionally, Dover's intelligent-design statement confuses students about evolution and raises both religious and scientific questions, Padian said. "I think it makes people stupid," he said. "It confuses them about things that are well accepted in science." ... [See below for "Lawyers for the school board expect to begin presenting their case Monday." These parents who brought this case might be by now reflecting on whether they really had their childrens' best interests at heart, or whether they were not just using their children to fight their own battle. As a parent I would have thought that a 1-minute statement they would only hear once, would not have been worth disrupting their childrens' education and social relationships over. As for "intelligent design [being] ... essentially the same as Bible-based creationism," how can it be, when ID is not based on the "Bible", but solely on the evidence of nature? As for "They have usurped my authority to be the one in charge of my daughter's religious education" what about the majority of parents who object to the Darwinists' having "usurped their parental "authority to be the one in charge of " their children's "religious education"? As for the claim by "Kevin Padian" (past President of the NCSE) that "Of Pandas and People" ... "ignores evidence from the fossil record": 1) my 1993 second edition of the book claims only to be a supplemental text to be "used together with your other text ... to balance the overall curriculum" (p.ix), and 2) Pandas alerts the student to a number of major issues regarding "the fossil record" that most biology textbooks try to keep hidden, e.g. the sudden appearance of the animal phyla [in the Cambrian explosion]; fossils appear "fully formed and functional" with a  "lack of evidence for graded series of in-between fossils"; and fossils then tend to "persist largely unchanged ... called stasis"; and then they go extinct: "suddenly disappear from the record":
"Major Features of the Fossil Record. In the absence of eyewitness testimony the fossil record provides circumstantial evidence to paleontologists and biologists. There are three notable features of the fossil record that must be considered in attempting to find out how life began and came to exist in its profusion of forms. 1. The vast majority of the known animal phyla (over 95%) are either known or believed to have appeared within a geologically `brief' period (estimates range from 10 to 40 million years). Thereafter, new phyla stop appearing throughout the geological record. The phyla are the major groups of life forms, based upon large differences in morphology, especially basic body plans. 2. After fossils first appear in the record they persist largely unchanged through many strata (a phenomenon called stasis)..., then frequently they suddenly disappear from the record. 3. Fossil species are fully formed and functional when they first appear in the record. There is a conspicuous lack of evidence for graded series of in-between fossils. Instead, numerous gaps exist throughout the fossil record." (Davis P. & Kenyon D.H., "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," Foundation for Thought and Ethics: Richardson TX, Second Edition, 1993, p.92)
Evolutionary turnabout, MSNBC, Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle, Oct. 14, 2005 .... : The tide in Pennsylvania's intelligent-design trial is shifting, with the pro-Darwin plaintiffs coming to the end of their witness list and the pro-design defendants getting ready to call their witnesses. The tide in the scientific community is shifting as well, with scientists starting to realize that they have to plead their case more forcefully in the court of public opinion - and at the same time recognizing that they won’t always win an "us-vs.-them" debate. On both sides, Web logs are ramping up to cover the intelligent-design debate in general and the trial in particular. For the pro-ID view, there's Evolution News & Views and Intelligent Design the Future. For the other side of the argument, there's The Panda's Thumb and Pharyngula. Carl Zimmer's award-winning blog, The Loom, doesn't get into the trial so much, but does an excellent job of explaining the deep wonders of evolutionary science. Scientific societies are getting into the act as well: It's no longer just Talk.Origins and the National Center for Science Education vs. Answers in Genesis and Creation Science Evangelism. The American Association for the Advancement of Science as put together extensive resources on the evolution debate. And over the next week, the Geological Society of America will be presenting several panels on the issue, including a presentation on "grassroots activities" for promoting the teaching of evolutionary biology. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is also addressing the topic at its annual meeting next week. The National Science Foundation has provided support for an "Explore Evolution" exhibit that's making its way around the country, as well as a Web site called Understanding Evolution (which sparked a lawsuit this week, in yet another legal turnabout). Will all this activity and legal wrangling make much of a dent in public opinion? Even some of ID's sharpest critics wonder about that. In his blog, Nathan Newman says the Pennsylvania court case may be counterproductive even if the plaintiffs win: "Yes, we need to fight for the truth of scientific accuracy and evolution in the public sphere, but using the courts because we have failed to convince a majority of the population of evolution is both anti-democratic and bad strategy over the long term." ... [Indeed, the "the pro-design defendants getting ready to call their witnesses". The court schedule shows "Monday October 17, and Tuesday October 18, 2005 - Defense Witnesses Michael Behe, Richard Nilson [sic], and Michael Baksa." Sounds like it is starting to sink in with some evolutionists that: 1) they could lose this case, in which case presumably ID, or at least the problems of evolution, could be taught in schools); or 2) even if they won, the evolutionists could still lose in "in the court of public opinion"! My assessment is that while the evolutionists scored a hit with Forrest's documenting the creationist origins of Pandas, I doubt if that would be enough to sway the judge, given that Pandas raises a lot of secular scientific problems for evolution and evidence for design in nature. So, given that I expect that the pro-design's witnesses to put up a stronger case (especially Mike Behe), I am becoming increasingly confident that the judge will rule that: 1) ID, as long as it is based on the evidence of nature and not the Bible, is not "religion" or "creationism" and therefore does not contravene the Supreme Court's interpretations of the First Amendment's "establishment of religion" clause, and so can be taught in public schools; and 2) he will re-affirm Justice Scalia's and Chief Justice Rehnquist's dissenting opinion in the 1987 Louisiana "balanced treatment" trial, that "The people of" Dover "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" and "that the scientific evidence for evolution is" not "so conclusive that no one could be gullible enough to believe that there is any real scientific evidence to the contrary":
"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.)]
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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