Wednesday, November 02, 2005

'Intelligent design' trial enters final week, etc

News items about testimony on Monday October 31, the beginning of the final week of the Dover case (Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al), with my comments in square brackets.

'Intelligent design' trial enters final week, NEPA News/AP, Martha Raffaele, October 31, 2005. A landmark federal trial over whether "intelligent design" can be mentioned in high school biology classes entered its final week Monday with two school board members who supported the concept scheduled to testify for the defense. The Dover Area School Board is defending its decision in October 2004 to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The board's lawyers planned to call Jane Cleaver, who resigned from the board to move out of state after the vote, and current board member Alan Bonsell to testify about the board's discussions of the teaching of evolution leading up to the biology curriculum change. Eight families are suing to have intelligent design removed from the biology curriculum. They argue that the school board's policy essentially promotes the Bible's view of creation, and therefore violates the constitutional separation of church and state. The intelligent-design statement says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information. Intelligent design supporters argue that natural selection, an element of evolutionary theory, cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. The trial began Sept. 26 and is expected to conclude on Friday. ... [These must be the last witnesses, because presumably both the anti-ID plaintiff and pro-ID defence will each want to spend at least a day on their summing up?]

Board Member Testifies in Evolution Case, The Guardian/AP, November 1, 2005, Martha Raffaele ... HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A school board member who supported including a reference to "intelligent design" in the district's science curriculum testified in a landmark federal lawsuit Monday that the board only intended for teachers to mention the concept, not teach it. Board member Alan Bonsell said he sought to allay science teachers' fears that they might be sued over the policy. "My goal was to try to bring something together that everyone could agree on, if that was possible," he said. ... Bonsell was president of the board in October 2004 when it voted to require 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 a textbook, "Of Pandas and People," for more information. Earlier Monday, former school board member Jane Cleaver testified she didn't fully understand intelligent design, but voted for it because she wanted students to be made aware of other theories. ... [Also at CNN. This is an important point, that "the board only intended for teachers to mention the concept" (of "intelligent design" in a 1-minute statement), not teach it" (my emphasis). See also next.]

Intelligent-design textbook debated: Former school board member says she saw no link to creationism, MSNBC, Oct. 31, 2005 HARRISBURG, Pa. - There is nothing wrong with a textbook on "intelligent design" because it doesn't make any references to God or the Bible, said a school board member who supported inserting the concept into the district's science curriculum. Jane Cleaver, who later resigned from the Dover Area School Board to move out of state, testified Monday in a landmark federal trial over whether intelligent design can be mentioned in biology classes. The school board is defending its decision in October 2004 to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. .... Cleaver said she skimmed the book [Of Pandas and People] and decided it could be mentioned in class because it didn't discuss creationism. ... She acknowledged she didn't fully understand intelligent design, but knew it was another theory. "I wanted our students to be made aware of other theories that are out there," she said. "I thought it would be good for education." Thomas Schmidt, an attorney for eight families suing the district, asked her, "Isn't it true that no board member explained or expressed how the change in curriculum would improve education at Dover High School?" Cleaver responded, "I voted in my opinion what I thought was right." Working out a compromise Board member Alan Bonsell, who served as the board's president in 2004, testified Monday that he got involved in the biology curriculum discussions in August of that year to work out a compromise acceptable to the high-school science teachers. "My understanding was that they did not want to teach intelligent design," Bonsell said. ... [Cleaver makes an important point: the book Of Pandas and People does not in fact "make any references to God or the Bible." Her "I wanted our students to be made aware of other theories that are out there ... I thought it would be good for education" is a legitimate "secular purpose" under the "Lemon test" that was applied in the 1987 Louisiana "balanced treatment" trial"

"The Establishment Clause forbids the enactment of any law `respecting an establishment of religion.' The Court has applied a three-pronged test to determine whether legislation comports with the Establishment Clause. First, the legislature must have adopted the law with a secular purpose. Second, the statute's principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion. Third, the statute must not result in an excessive entanglement of government with religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). State action violates the Establishment Clause if it fails to satisfy any of these prongs." (Edwards, Governor of Louisiana, et al. v. Aguillard et al., Supreme Court of the United States 482 U.S. 578, December 10, 1986, Argued June 19, 1987).

In the same trial, Justices Scalia and Rehnquist, dissented, pointing out that "there was a genuine secular purpose" in having "whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in ... schools":

"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 Justices Scalia and Rehnquist. Emphasis original)]

Intelligent-design judge lashes out: He was angry about inconsistencies in testimony from the school board president., Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 01, 2005, Amy Worden ... A federal trial that has for six weeks focused largely on a debate between science and religion and the teaching of evolution took a dramatic Law and Order-style turn late yesterday over a money trail. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones 3d, who has presided over the intelligent design trial with a calm and good-humored manner, grew red-faced and launched into a blistering 10-minute cross-examination of Dover School Board President Alan Bonsell over the source of $850 used to buy high school textbooks on intelligent design. Clearly angry over the day's testimony from a key witness, Jones questioned Bonsell about inconsistencies between his depositions and his trial testimony about the money to buy the book, Of Pandas and People. .... The board said at the time that it bought the books with money from an anonymous source. ... In two separate, sworn depositions this year, Bonsell said he did not know the source of the $850 check for the books. But last week former board member William Buckingham testified he handed the check to Bonsell to give to his father, Donald Bonsell. "You were the conduit by which your father received the $850?" said Jones, his jaws clenched. "Why in January of 2005 didn't you tell [plaintiffs' attorney Eric] Rothschild on repeated questioning that Mr. Buckingham was involved in the exchange?" Bonsell replied, "It was my fault. I should have said Buckingham." Under cross-examination last week, Buckingham, who had also been unable to recall where the money came from in his deposition, told the court he had raised the money through his church. After several minutes of clearly unacceptable answers yesterday from Bonsell, an exasperated Jones asked, "Why was your father involved?" Bonsell said his father agreed to buy the books so that it "took the donation off the table." "If no one gave a penny, my father would have donated the books," Bonsell said. After the court adjourned, attorneys for both sides said they would not comment on the unusual action. "I won't speculate about the judge's motives or processes," said Patrick Gillen, an attorney with Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal center in Michigan that is defending the school board. "I'm confident he is seeking the truth. That's his responsibility." An attorney for the plaintiffs, Witold Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, told reporters, "I'm not sure there is anything we can add to what you witnessed in the courtroom." The trial resumes tomorrow with testimony expected from defense witnesses Sheila Harkins and Angie Yingling, both of whom voted for the science curriculum policy change. Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday. ... [Also at York Daily Record & The Patriot-News. On the face of it, as reported, it seems that Bonsell (and Buckingham?) were less than truthful in their sworn depositions and Bonsell at least may be charged with perjury. It seems that Bonsell (and Buckingham?) were trying to hide the connection between the Panda books and his (their?) church. If the book was to be a donation, it should have been an open and above board public appeal and the church members could have contributed like any other members of the public. Now this will clearly count (perhaps decisively) against the motives of the Dover board, in appearing to be primarily religious rather than secular. This shows the wisdom of the Discovery Institute distancing itself from the Dover Board from the outset, calling its policy "misguided":

"SEATTLE, DEC. 14 - The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called `misguided' today by Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten. `While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it,' said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). `Dover's current policy has a number of problems, not the least of which is its lack of clarity. At one point, it appears to prohibit Dover schools from teaching anything about 'the origins of life.' At another point, it appears to both mandate as well as prohibit the teaching of the scientific theory of intelligent design. The policy's incoherence raises serious problems from the standpoint of constitutional law. Thus, the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten.' Apart from questions about its constitutionality, West expressed reservations about the Dover School Board's directive on public policy grounds. `When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design,' explained West. `Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we don't think intelligent design should be required in public schools. `What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory,' added West, `which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public." ("Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls For its Withdrawal," Discovery Institute, December 14, 2004)

The problem in the Dover case is besides "the question before the court [of] ... the ... constitutionality ... of teaching design", "there's all these other complicating factors, of actual motive, purpose, and so forth":

"MARK RYLAND (DI): ...: 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. .... 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 will say that, just to be clear, we're convinced that if the question before the court is the per se constitutionality, constitutionality of teaching design, then it's very clear, as I was arguing when using my thought experiments, that there's really only one reasonable answer. That, however, is not necessarily the court's decision that they'll face in Dover, since there's all these other complicating factors, of actual motive, purpose, and so forth and so on. And I'll leave it at that." (National Center for Science Education, "Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum," October 23, 2005).
BTW, there was no "squabble", at least not on the part of the Discovery Institute, as can be seen by clicking on the above link and reading the NCSE's own transcript! I expect that Judge Jones (who has said in the context of this case that he "became a judge with the hope of having an opportunity to rule in matters of great importance"), will now distinguish clearly between the issues of: 1) the policy of the Dover board (that while it was not unconstitutional in itself, it was contaminated by the evident religious motives of board members); and 2) the constitutionality of teaching ID (that there is a legitimate "secular purpose" in proposing a scientific argument for design, such as that of Prof. Behe's "irreducible complexity").]

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

No comments: