Friday, November 04, 2005

In Intelligent Design Case, a Cause in Search of a Lawsuit, etc

News items on the Dover case (Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al.):

In Intelligent Design Case, a Cause in Search of a Lawsuit, The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein, November 4, 2005 HARRISBURG, Pa ... For years, a lawyer for the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan visited school boards around the country searching for one willing to challenge evolution by teaching intelligent design, and to face a risky, high-profile trial. Intelligent design was a departure for a nonprofit law firm founded by two conservative Roman Catholics ... who until then had focused on the defense of anti- abortion advocates, gay-rights opponents and the display of Christian symbols like crosses and Nativity scenes on government property. But Richard Thompson, the former prosecutor who is president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Center, says its role is to use the courts "to change the culture" - and it well could depending on the outcome of the test case it finally found. Lawyers for the center are to sum up their case on Friday after a six-week trial in which they have been defending the school district in the small Pennsylvania town of Dover. The school board voted last year to require that students in ninth grade biology class be read a statement saying that "Darwin's theory" is "not a fact" and that intelligent design is an alternative worth studying. At issue in the Dover lawsuit, brought by 11 parents in Federal District Court, is whether intelligent design is really religion dressed up as science, and whether teaching it in a public school violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The More center's lawyers put scientists on the witness stand who argued that intelligent design - the idea that living organisms are so complex that the best explanation is that a higher intelligence designed them - is a credible scientific theory and not religion because it never identifies God as the designer. Still religion is at the heart of the case's appeal for the center, say its lawyers and the chairman of its board. The chairman, Bowie Kuhn, the former baseball commissioner, said the board agreed that the center should take on an intelligent design case because while it is not necessarily based on religion "it is being opposed because people think it is religious." And that was enough for a group whose mission, as explained on its Web site, is "to protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square." "America's culture has been influenced by Christianity from the very beginning," Mr. Thompson said, "but there is an attempt to slowly remove every symbol of Christianity and religious faith in our country. This is a very dangerous movement because what will ultimately happen is, out of sight, out of mind." The legal group was founded in 1999 by Mr. Thompson and Thomas Monaghan, the former chief executive of Domino's pizza. .... Mr. Thompson said in an interview it was "a very important free speech case." To find its first intelligent design case, the lawyers went around the country looking for a school board willing to withstand a lawsuit. In May 2000, Robert Muise, one of the lawyers, traveled to Charleston, W.Va., to persuade the school board there to buy the intelligent design textbook "Of Pandas and People" and teach it in science class. Mr. Muise told the board in Charleston that it would undoubtedly be sued if the district taught intelligent design, but that the center would mount a defense at no cost. "We'll be your shields against such attacks," he told them at a school board meeting, a riff on the center's slogan, "The Sword and Shield for People of Faith." He said they could defend teaching intelligent design as a matter of academic freedom. John Luoni, the former president of the Charleston school board, said he remembered listening to Mr. Muise and concluding: "It's not really a scientific theory. It's more of a religious theory. It should be taught if a church or a denomination believes in it, but I didn't think that religious viewpoint should be taught as part of a science class." The board in West Virginia declined the center's offer. So did school districts in Michigan and Minnesota and a handful of other states, Mr. Muise and Mr. Thompson said. But in Dover, the firm found willing partners when it contacted the school board in the summer of 2004 and promised it a first-class defense, The Dover school board proceeded despite a memo from its lawyer, Stephen S. Russell, warning that if the board lost the case, they would have to pay its opponents legal fees - which according to the plaintiffs' lawyers exceeds $1 million. In the memorandum, revealed in court on Wednesday, Mr. Russell advised that opponents would have a strong case because board members had a lengthy public record of advocating "putting religion back in the schools." Some of the proponents of intelligent design are also unhappy that the case went to court, and fear it could stop the movement in its infancy because some board members had a public record of advocating creationism, which the Supreme Court has twice ruled cannot be taught in public schools. "The school district never consulted us and did the exact opposite of what we suggested," said John G. West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, an organization in the forefront of the intelligent design movement. "Frankly I don't even know if school board members know what intelligent design is. They and their supporters are trying to hijack intelligent design for their own purposes. They think they're sending signals in the culture wars." Mr. Thompson, the Thomas More Center's chief counsel, said the case appealed to him because of its "national impact." Four months before the trial started, he said, he watched the movie "Inherit the Wind," a drama about the Scopes evolution trial 80 years ago that helped turn the country against religious creationists and fundamentalists. "It's only when you take the cases that are on the borderline that you can change the law," he said. No matter how the Dover case turns out, the center is considering defending several teachers who are defying their school districts by teaching intelligent design. "We're developing all this expertise in intelligent design," Mr. Thompson said. "We hope to use it." ... [If this is true (as it seems to be) then it is as I suspected that Thompson and the TMLC are just using ID for their own religious agenda. It needs to be repeated that from the outset the Discovery Institute publicly stated that it regarded the Dover policy of mandating ID as "misguided":

Intelligent designers down on Dover: Theory's largest national supporter won't back district, The York Dispatch, September 23, 2005, Christina Kauffman ...The Dover Area School District and its board will likely walk into a First Amendment court battle next week without the backing of the nation's largest supporter of intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit that describes itself as a "nonpartisan policy and research organization," recently issued a policy position against Dover in its upcoming court case. John West, associate director of Discovery's Center for Science & Culture, calls the Dover policy "misguided" and "likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design."

And that the Dover Board (with Thompson present) rejected the Discovery Institute's advice "not to institute the policy":

Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum, NCSE, October 23, 2005 ... MARK RYLAND (DI): Sure, I'd be happy to respond. Let me back up first and say: The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it. We have, unfortunately, gotten sucked into it, because we have a lot of expertise in the issue, that people are interested in. When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're teachers are likely to be hostile towards it, I mean there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path. If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. Teach it dialectically. And despite all the hoopla you've heard today, there is a great deal of -- many, many problems with Darwin's theory, in particular the power of NS and RV to do the astounding things that are attributed to them. .... So that's the background. And what's happened in the foreground was, when it came to the Dover school district, we advised them not to institute the policy they advised. In fact, I personally went and met with them, and actually Richard was there the same day, and they didn't listen to me, that's fine, they can do what they want, I have no power and control over them. But from the start we just disagreed that this was a good place, a good time and place to have this battle -- which is risky, in the sense that there's a potential for rulings that this is somehow unconstitutional."

I now fully expect that Dover will lose the case and the Dover board will be saddled with ~$1 million costs. Thompson is deluding himself if he thinks that after this any other school board seeking advice on ID will touch the TMLC with a ten-foot pole! However, I also expect that the judge will distinguish between: 1) ID as a scientific theory and; 2) those (like the Thomas More Law Center and the Dover board) who "try... to hijack intelligent design for their own purposes." If that happens, it will strengthen the hand of the Discovery Institute's "teach the controversy" approach with other school boards. But no matter what happens, this won't stop those of us who think that ID is true and we will just keep plugging away arguing for that truth. As far as I am concerned, truth is its own reward, and those who oppose the truth (even unwittingly), though they may win the court cases, are the real losers!]

Administrator: Board sets curriculum, Philadelphia Inquirer/AP, Nov. 04, 2005, Martha Raffaele ... HARRISBURG - The school board, not teachers, ultimately decides what belongs in the public school curriculum, said the assistant superintendent at a school district being sued over whether intelligent design belongs in science classes. The board has final say on such curriculum decisions, Michael Baksa testified yesterday during the trial in U.S. District Court. "Once the board makes a decision, whether you agree with the decision or not, it's your responsibility to implement it," he said. The Dover Area school board decided in 2004 to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before biology lessons on evolution. Teachers were opposed to the statement .... Early drafts of the statement were developed with input from the teachers and gave more weight to Darwin's theory. That language was taken out because the school board disagreed with it, Baksa said. An attorney for the families suing to have intelligent design removed from the curriculum said "what was left is language that's pretty negative." "I don't see it that way," Baksa responded. The defense also called biology teacher Robert Linker to testify. Linker, who said he was in his 12th year of teaching biology, said he used to begin classes on evolution by drawing a line down the middle of the blackboard and writing "creationism" on one side and "evolution" on the other. He recalled pointing to the "creationism" side and saying: "I'm not going to cover that side because I'm not certified and it's illegal for me to teach it in a public school." He said he had never heard of intelligent design until the school board brought it up. He said he read parts of the book Of Pandas and People, concluded that the guiding force it referred to was God, and decided that he could not teach the concept. "Because, in my mind, it had to do with God or religion, and I knew you couldn't do that in a public school," Linker said. University of Idaho microbiology professor Scott Minnich, an expert witness for the defense who supports intelligent design, testified that the concept is based on science and doesn't require adherence to any religious belief. He also praised the intelligent-design statement. "I think it promotes critical thinking," Minnich said. . ... [While technically Baksa may be correct, it is self-defeating to mandate a policy be taught that most teachers oppose (and indeed may believe it to be "illegal"). Again, ID is not "creationism", because it is based on the evidence of nature, not the Bible:

"Intelligent design is sorely misunderstood, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, John G. West, August 9, 2005 ... The first misunderstanding is that intelligent design is based on religion rather than science. Design theory is a scientific inference based on empirical evidence, not religious texts. The theory proposes that some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause as opposed to an undirected process such as natural selection. Although controversial, design theory is supported by a growing number of scientists in scientific journals, conference proceedings and books. While intelligent design may have religious implications (just like Darwin's theory), it does not start from religious premises." (my emphasis)
Quite frankly I don't know why the TMLC called Scott Minnich, because he could not say anything that Mike Behe had not already said. According to this (admittedly biased) account, the judge was not impressed.]

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

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