Sunday, November 06, 2005

'Intelligent design' trial concludes, etc

News items on the conclusion of the Dover trial (Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al.), with my comments in square brackets:

'Intelligent design' trial concludes: Federal judge expects to rule no later than early January, MSNBC/AP ... Nov. 4, 2005 HARRISBURG, Pa. - A lawyer for eight families who object to the inclusion of "intelligent design" in a high school biology curriculum urged a federal judge Friday to overturn the policy on grounds that it promotes religion in public schools. The landmark federal trial could determine whether the concept, which holds that evolution cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms, can be mentioned in public school science classes. But lawyer Eric Rothschild said during closing arguments that board members who pushed for the curriculum change knew that intelligent design promoted the Bible's view of creation. "Intelligent design became the label for the board's desire to teach creationism," Rothschild said. Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the school board, countered that its October 2004 decision was intended to improve science education by calling attention to "a new, fledgling science movement." ... The policy requires students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to the textbook "Of Pandas and People" for more information. "The defendants' policy has the primary purpose and primary effect of advancing science education," Gillen said. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said he hoped to issue a ruling no later than early January. Earlier Friday, the defense concluded its case with testimony from University of Idaho microbiology professor Scott Minnich, who supports discussing the concept in high school science classes. Minnich said under cross-examination that "intelligent design" articles are not found in the major peer-reviewed scientific journals because it is a minority view. "To endorse intelligent design comes with risk because it's a position against the consensus. Science is not a democratic process," he said. The trial began Sept. 26 and is at the end of its sixth week. The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The school district is being represented by the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center, which says that its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians. ... [Also at The Guardian, & Seattle Post- Intelligencer. It is false of Rothschild (who is on the NCSE's Legal Advisory Board) to claim that "intelligent design promoted the Bible's view of creation". ID says nothing about "the Bible's view of creation". ID is simply the scientific general theory that there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature:

"What then is Intelligent Design? Intelligent Design begins with the observation that intelligent causes can do things which undirected natural causes cannot. Undirected natural causes can place scrabble pieces on a board, but cannot arrange the pieces as meaningful words or sentences. To obtain a meaningful arrangement requires an intelligent cause. This intuition, that there is a fundamental distinction between undirected natural causes on the one hand and intelligent causes on the other, has underlain the design arguments of past centuries. ... In the last five years design has witnessed an explosive resurgence. Scientists are beginning to realize that design can be rigorously formulated as a scientific theory. What has kept design outside the scientific mainstream these last hundred and thirty years is the absence of precise methods for distinguishing intelligently caused objects from unintelligently caused ones. For design to be a fruitful scientific concept, scientists have to be sure they can reliably determine whether something is designed. ... What has emerged is a new program for scientific research known as Intelligent Design. Within biology, Intelligent Design is a theory of biological origins and development. Its fundamental claim is that intelligent causes are necessary to 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, on the basis of observational features of the world, are capable of reliably distinguishing 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 (as in the movie Contact). ... Intelligent Design presupposes neither a creator nor miracles. Intelligent Design is theologically minimalist. It detects intelligence without speculating about the nature of the intelligence. ... It is the empirical detectability of intelligent causes that renders Intelligent Design a fully scientific theory, and distinguishes it from the design arguments of philosophers, or what has traditionally been called "natural theology." The world contains events, objects, and structures which exhaust the explanatory resources of undirected natural causes, and which can be adequately explained only by recourse to intelligent causes. Scientists are now in a position to demonstrate this rigorously. Thus what has been a long-standing philosophical intuition is now being cashed out as a scientific research program. ... Logically speaking, Intelligent Design is compatible with everything from the starkest creationism (i.e., God intervening at every point to create new species) to the most subtle and far-ranging evolution (i.e., God seamlessly melding all organisms together in a great tree of life). For Intelligent Design the first question is not how organisms came to be (though this is a research question that needs to be addressed), but whether they demonstrate clear, empirically detectable marks of being intelligently caused. In principle, an evolutionary process can exhibit such "marks of intelligence" as much as any act of special creation. ... It is important to realize that Intelligent Design is not an apologetic ploy to cajole people into God's Kingdom. Intelligent Design is a scientific research program." (Dembski W.A., "The Intelligent Design Movement," Cosmic Pursuit, Spring 1998. Access Research Network, November 15, 1998. Emphasis original)

Minnich is personally aware that "To endorse intelligent design comes with risk because it's a position against the consensus" and "Science is not a democratic process" because his university (University of Iowa) has now banned "anything other than evolution from being taught in ... science classes" even though "Minnich ... has never taught intelligent design in a classroom".]

Closing Arguments Made in Trial on Intelligent Design, The New York Times, Laurie Goodstein ... November 5, 2005 HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 4 - The nation's first trial to test the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design as science ended Friday with a lawyer for the Dover school board pronouncing intelligent design "the next great paradigm shift in science." His opponent, a lawyer for the 11 parents suing the school board, dismissed intelligent design as dishonest, unscientific and based entirely on "a meager little analogy that collapses immediately upon inspection." The conclusion of the six- week trial in Federal District Court on Friday made it clear that two separate but interconnected entities are actually on trial: the Dover school board and the fledgling intelligent design movement. .... At the trial, board members repeatedly said they wanted to "encourage critical thinking." But the parents presented evidence that the board's purpose was religious and that the intelligent design statement was a compromise that the board settled for after learning it could not teach creationism. Operating on another plane in the case were the dueling scientists, those who argued that intelligent design is an exciting new explanation, versus those who testified that it does not deserve to be called science. The case, Kitzmiller et al v. Dover, will be decided by Judge John E. Jones III, who says he hopes to issue his ruling before the end of the year, or early January at the latest. The scientists who advocate intelligent design explained that the complexity of biological organisms and the "purposeful arrangement of parts" are evidence that there is a designer. They said their theory is not religious because they are not claiming the designer is God, since that is untestable. Scott A. Minnich ... testified for the defense on Thursday and Friday, likening intelligent design to seeing a watch and implicitly knowing that it had a designer - the argument the plaintiffs' lawyer called "a meager little analogy." In his blunt closing argument, the plaintiffs' lawyer, Eric Rothschild, accused the intelligent design movement of lying, just as he said the school board members had lied when they testified that their purpose for changing the science curriculum had nothing to do with religion. They lied, he said, when they testified that they did not make or hear religious declarations at board meetings, and when they claimed they did not know that 50 copies of an intelligent design textbook were bought for the school with money collected at a church and funneled through the father of a school board member, Alan Bonsell. .... Mr. Rothschild reminded the judge of that interchange and said that the board's dishonesty "mimics" the intelligent design movement. "Its essential religious nature does not change whether it is called 'creation science' or 'intelligent design' or 'sudden emergence theory,' " Mr. Rothschild said. "The shell game has to stop." A lawyer for the school board, Patrick Gillen, said in closing arguments that while some board members had strong religious beliefs, neither their "primary purpose" nor the effect of their policy was to advance religion. The trial laid bare the fighting over the biology curriculum that went on between Dover's board and science teachers for more than two years. Science teachers testified that they fought the change at every step, but Mr. Gillen said that the final result "has much more to do with the teachers' input" than the board's. The campaign to teach creationism alongside evolution was largely driven by two school board members, William Buckingham and Mr. Bonsell, who both testified that they believe the Bible's account of creation is literally true. ... The big question now is whether the judge will base his ruling more narrowly on the specific actions of the Dover board, or more broadly on the permissibility of teaching intelligent design in public school science classes. Robert Muise, a lawyer for the board, said his strategy was to present scientists as expert witnesses to prove that there is a complex debate among scientists. "It's going to be difficult for the judge to decide" whether the pro- or the anti-intelligent-design scientists are right, Mr. Muise said. But Mr. Rothschild said, "This isn't really science against science because that would be two competing arguments based on evidence, research and peer-reviewed articles - and intelligent design has none of those." ... [This is a perceptive article, recognizing that it was "clear that two separate but interconnected entities are actually on trial: the Dover school board and the fledgling intelligent design movement." I am sure that judge Jones won't be taken in by Rothschild's dismissal of ID as "dishonest, unscientific and based entirely on `a meager little analogy that collapses immediately upon inspection.'" I am also sure that the judge will not be impressed by Rothschild's ad hominems, accusing the "intelligent design movement of lying" and "dishonesty" in an attempt to tar it with the same brush as the Dover board.]

'Intelligent design' case draws to close, ABC News/Reuters Nov 4, 2005 - By Jon Hurdle HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania - One attorney accused a witness of lying on Friday during closing arguments in the trial over whether U.S. public schools should teach the theory of intelligent design. U.S. District Judge John Jones said he wants to decide by year's end the case that addresses whether a Pennsylvania school district violated the U.S. Constitution when it introduced intelligent design -- a theory that competes with evolution -- into science classes. The first legal challenge to the teaching of intelligent design is being watched in at least 30 states where Christian conservatives are planning similar initiatives. Attorney Eric Rothschild, arguing for 11 parents who sued the Dover, Pennsylvania, Area School District and oppose the theory's inclusion in the curriculum, told the court that intelligent design was creationism in disguise. He said it was introduced by Christians on the school board whose agenda was clearly religious. He accused former school board member William Buckingham of lying when Buckingham testified he had mistakenly spoken in favor of creationism in a television interview because he had never been interviewed before and felt "like a deer in the headlights." "That was no deer in the headlights," Rothschild said. "That deer was wearing shades and was totally at ease."... Patrick Gillen, an attorney for the school district, called intelligent design "the next great paradigm shift in science" and "a legitimate educational objective." He defended school board member Alan Bonsell, a leading advocate of the policy, conceding Bonsell was a creationist but saying he was not trying to impose his views on students. The school board member's concern was to counteract "science taught as dogma," Gillen said. ... Opponents of intelligent design fear anti- evolution policies will be adopted by school boards in many states if the Dover policy stands. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Council for Science Education, which promotes teaching evolution, predicted outside the court that there would be a flood of similar policies across the country if the school district prevails. Both sides are expected to appeal if they lose. ... [Apart from being false (see above) it is also self-defeating for Rothschild (and his ilk) to claim that "intelligent design was creationism in disguise". If ID is so disguised that it is not based on the Bible but only the evidence of nature, and is not trying to make science fit the Bible (e.g. as creation-science does in claiming scientific evidence for a young-Earth and global Noah's flood), then it is not "creationism" at all! But I agree, after seeing the interview, that Buckingham "was totally at ease" and therefore that he lied under oath about "mistakenly spoken in favor of creationism in a television interview". It is an important reminder that whatever the result, an appeal is likely, but it would not be to the Supreme Court, but first to the Court of Appeals which could refer it back to judge Jones!

It seems to me that there are four basic alternative rulings that judge Jones could make: 1) both the Dover board's statement and ID do not have sufficient "secular purpose" and are therefore unconstitutional; 2) the Dover board's statement does not have sufficient "secular purpose" and is therefore unconstitutional, but no ruling is made about ID; 3) the Dover board's statement does have sufficient "secular purpose" and is therefore constitutional, but no ruling is made about ID; or 4) both the Dover board's statement and ID do have sufficient "secular purpose" and are both constitutional. I think that 1) is unlikely, given the evidence by Behe, Fuller and Minnich that ID is a secular scientific theory, and presumably a judge cannot just override expert witnesses? I think that 2) or 3) are likely since judge Jones had previously indicated the case was about "whether the challenged policy has a secular purpose and whether the policy's principal or primary effect advances or inhibits religion":

Lawsuit over intelligent design moves forward, York Daily Record, Lauri Lebo, September 14, 2005 ... In a ruling Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III denied Dover's request for summary judgment to throw out a case filed against the district by 11 parents over the intelligent design inclusion. He wrote that "genuine issues of material fact exist regarding as to whether the challenged policy has a secular purpose and whether the policy's principal or primary effect advances or inhibits religion."

and he would be sticking his neck out as a lower court to rule that ID in general is constitutional. I therefore think that 4) is unlikely. But of course, being a judge, he may well have read Berkeley law professor emeritus Phillip E. Johnson's Darwin on Trial and even other writings, including:

"The Supreme Court decision described in the second paragraph is Aguillard v. Edwards, 482 U.S. 578 (1987). The Justices probably did not mean to lay down a rule that the official theory of evolution may not be criticized or questioned in public school classrooms, but that was the effect of their decision. The Justices who signed the majority opinion seem to have been fooled by arguments from the science establishment that every claim made by the scientific elite about "evolution' is a matter of neutral fact and that all opposition to materialism comes from people who want to read the Bible to students instead of teaching them science. Perhaps a Justice who drives home in the evening from the Court will by now have noticed the `Darwin fish' bumper stickers on cars showing a fish with legs in mockery of the Christian fish symbol on other cars and will realize that the Supreme Court has been duped into taking sides in a religious debate." (Johnson P.E., "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, 1997, p.125)!
Of 2) or 3), at first I thought that 2) is more likely, given the evidence of religious motivation by members of the Dover board. But then I thought that 3) is a real possibility in that the judge might consider that a 1-minute statement merely mentioning that there are gaps in Darwin's theory and that there is an ID book in the school library has sufficient secular purpose, despite the evidence of religious motivation by members of the Dover board. Also, 2) is just the status quo and does not fit with judge Jones' previously stated ambition "to rule in matters of great importance":
Bad Frog Beer to 'intelligent design', Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 16, 2005 , Amy Worden ... During an interview in his court chambers, Jones, a Lutheran ... said the full impact of the case's popularity hit him when he was in an Orlando airport while visiting his daughter and he noticed a woman reading a story on the trial in USA Today. Seeing the headline "brought it home," he said, "that the trial was the one I am sitting in as finder of fact and judge. "I became a judge with the hope of having an opportunity to rule in matters of great importance. To that extent this is something I looked forward to."
So, on balance (despite what I had said about Dover losing the case), I now think judge Jones will most likely rule 3), that the Dover board's statement does have sufficient "secular purpose" and is therefore constitutional, but no ruling is made about ID itself. That would of course be a major boost for ID. Indeed, all but option 1) would be a boost for ID, since the ACLU, AUSCS and NCSE would have failed in their attempt to have a court rule that ID was unconstitutional!

PS: It would be really interesting if the USA Today article judge Jones referred to (and he bought the paper and read) was "Evolution: Just teach it," By Eugenie C. Scott and Glenn Branch, USA Today, August 14, 2005, because in the same place was the article "Evolution: Debate it," By John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, USA Today, August 14, 2005!]

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

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