Thursday, November 03, 2005

Intelligent-design decision dissected, etc

News items, with my comments in square brackets, about testimony on Tuesday-Wednesday, November 1-2, of the Dover case (Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al.):

Intelligent-design decision dissected: School board member wanted students to know `other theories', MSNBC, Nov. 2, 2005. HARRISBURG, Pa. - A school board member testified Wednesday that she voted to include "intelligent design" in a high-school biology curriculum despite not knowing much about the concept because she thought students should be aware of alternatives to evolutionary theory. "I thought, this is another way to make them think," Dover Area School Board President Sheila Harkins said during a landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be introduced in public school science classes. Harkins acknowledged that her familiarity with the concept was limited to some Internet research and a brief reading of "Of Pandas and People," an intelligent- design textbook that the district is using as a reference book in the high school's library. Nevertheless, Harkins said she felt the curriculum should specify what kinds of theories should be mentioned besides evolution. "If you're going to say 'other theories,' then you need to have an example of what 'other theories' is," Harkins said. .... Harkins testified that the board didn't envision having an intelligent-design statement, which was later developed by school administrators, and she thought the teachers could present the topic "however they saw fit." "The statement would not be necessary if we were not sued," Harkins said. ... Earlier Wednesday, a school board member who had discrepancies in his testimony on the purchase of "Of Pandas and People" said he was very nervous before a deposition. Alan Bonsell was questioned Monday by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III about his January deposition and his trial testimony. He was given a chance to respond Wednesday. "I was extremely nervous to say the least and honestly tried to do my best and answer as truthfully as a I could," Bonsell said of his deposition. Bonsell testified Monday that he had received an $850 check from a fellow board member. The check was made out to Bonsell's father, who volunteered to donate copies of "Of Pandas and People" to the district. Jones asked Bonsell why he never shared that information in the deposition when he was repeatedly asked under oath about who was involved in making the donation. Bonsell, who served as the board's president in 2004, said he misspoke then. The board member who provided the check, William Buckingham, testified last week that he collected donations to help purchase the books during a Sunday service at his church. ... [Also at Philadelphia Inquirer. Presumably it is irrelevant that Harkins' "familiarity with the concept [of "intelligent design"] was limited". The point is that it was a legitimate "secular purpose" to want "students [to] ... be aware of alternatives to evolutionary theory" and "to make them think." Quite frankly I cannot see why Bonsell's being "extremely nervous" (and why was he?) would cause him to repeatedly avoid answering "under oath ... who was involved in making the donation".]

Origin of board decision probed: Dover school officials were asked about a creationism seminar, board discussions, York Daily Record, Michelle Starr, November 3, 2005 HARRISBURG - Not long into his cross-examination Wednesday, Dover schools Asst. Supt. Michael Baksa talked about a seminar he had attended about creationism in public schools. The typically calm and confident administrator started his testimony with shaky hands and a weak voice as he explained to plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rothschild that Supt. Richard Nilsen sent him to the Messiah College seminar on March 26, 2003. Baksa had returned to the stand in a federal civil suit over Dover Area School District's decision to include a mention of intelligent design in ninth-grade biology class. It was Baksa's third appearance on the stand after being bumped by out-of-town witnesses for the defense. Knowledge of the seminar wasn't new. But the plaintiffs' attorneys used it and other testimony from Baksa and school board President Sheila Harkins, who also testified Wednesday, to try to tie together events leading up to the science curriculum change and show that religion played a role in the board's decision. A policy that had a religious purpose would violate the First Amendment's establishment clause. Baksa testified that hours after attending the conference, he went to a Dover board retreat. According to previous testimony, board member Alan Bonsell said at the retreat that creationism should balance the teaching of evolution. Earlier in the trial, board members, former board members and Nilsen testified about notes made during board retreats in 2002 and 2003 at which Bonsell mentioned creationism and prayer in school. After the retreat, Baksa said, he told Bertha Spahr, head of the science department, that Bonsell wanted to give another theory equal time to evolution in science class. Baksa received a memo dated April 1, 2003, from then-Principal Trudy Peterman that said a board member wanted to give creationism equal time with evolution. "My first reaction is, `She got it wrong,'" Baksa said, referring to Peterman's use of the term creationism. But he didn't approach either Spahr or Peterman to correct the information, he said. A little more than a year after Peterman's memo, controversy erupted during June 2004 board meetings when board members, and one board member's wife, made religious comments while talking about buying new biology books. During Wednesday's questioning, Baksa corroborated some news coverage by saying he heard former board member Bill Buckingham talk about creationism, saying that "liberals in black robes" were taking away Christians' rights and that the ninth-grade biology book was "laced with Darwinism." Baksa said Buckingham said something about a man dying on the cross 2,000 years ago but didn't remember if the comment was made in 2003 during talks about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or in 2004 during discussion on the curriculum change. He also said Buckingham made a comment about the country not being founded on Muslim beliefs but said he didn't know when that was said. Earlier Wednesday, Harkins testified she didn't remember Bonsell talking about creationism or prayer during retreats. She said she heard Buckingham mention liberal judges but didn't know whether his mention of a man dying 2,000 years ago on the cross came at a 2004 board meeting or in earlier discussions about the pledge. She also said people in the audience were talking about creationism at the June meetings, while then-board member Jeff Brown talked about intelligent design. "My recollection is it seems to me I was thinking Jeff was the first one to bring up mentioning intelligent design in the conversation," she said. "I was thinking Alan, Noel (Wenrich) and Bill got in on the conversation." Baksa and Harkins both testified that, at those June meetings, they didn't know what intelligent design meant. In August 2004, before the October vote on the intelligent design statement, Baksa and others received e-mail from Stock and Leader lawyer Steve Russell. The district had asked him for advice about the pro-intelligent design textbook "Of Pandas and People." "Today I talked to Richard Thompson. ... they refer to the creationism issue as `intelligent design,'" Russell wrote, referring to Dover's lawyer from the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan. After court, Thompson maintained that creationism and intelligent design were separate. Russell's concern, according to the e-mail, was about various talk for putting religion back into the schools. Baksa said in court Wednesday that he considered Russell's words as advising caution in using "Pandas." In the summer of 2004, the board decided not to spend taxpayer money on "Pandas" as a companion text. Baksa testified that Nilsen asked him to research how much 50 copies of "Pandas" would cost so the board could then give the information to donors. Later that year, Alan Bonsell's father, Donald, and members of former board member Buckingham's church anonymously gave 60 copies of the book to the district. Outside court, Thompson said the events simply coincided. "I don't think they're connected," he said. "I think it's just happenstance. At that point, I don't think they were connected. The only reason that's brought up is because of the case that exists today." ... [The main problem above is what is meant by "creationism". To Darwinists, ID is "creationism" (even though it is based on the evidence of nature and not the Bible") and the Dover board members and administration seemed then to be unaware of the distinction between ID and creationism ("they didn't know what intelligent design meant."). It would be a help to find out what exactly was "the Messiah College seminar on March 26, 2003" about. The other references to Christianity and creationism may or may not have had anything to do with this issue of the statement. However, it is hard to see now how Judge Jones could find that there was a primary "secular purpose" in the motivation of this Dover board. What makes me think that the Dover board really was motivated by religious purposes is that they ignored the advice of the ID experts, the Discovery Institute:

"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 [Thompson] 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." ("Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum," National Center for Science Education, October 23, 2005).]

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

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