Thursday, December 22, 2005

Intelligent-design backers blast judge #1

Here is more on Judge Jones' flawed decision in the Dover (Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al.) trial. My comments are bold and in square brackets. Because of its length, I have split this post into two parts.

Intelligent-design backers blast judge: Jurist in Dover case 'activist' with 'delusions of grandeur', WorldNetDaily, December 21 2005 .... The think tank regarded as the leading proponent of "intelligent design" theory reacted strongly to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones' ruling yesterday against the Dover, Pa., school board, calling him "an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur." [I must say I agree. The signs were there that Jones saw this case in egocentric terms, seeing it as his "opportunity to rule in matters of great importance":

"During an interview in his court chambers, Jones, a Lutheran, described the experience as "intriguing and a little surreal." He 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. . To that extent this is something I looked forward to." (Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 16, 2005)
and describing the trial as, "certainly ... one of the most significant cases in United States history", being star-struck that "Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial":
"It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history," Judge Jones said. "Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial." "It's hard to say [how this case will be remembered," Judge Jones said. "History generally gets written a long time after the fact. We'll know better in ten or 20 years. All we can do now is decided as according to the law and legal precedent and hope for the best." (Tide Lines, 4 November 2005).]
"The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won't work," said John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute in Seattle. [Agreed. When Judge Overton in the 1982 Arkansas trial ruled that creation-science was not science, philosopher of science Larry Laudan criticized the expert witness, fellow philosopher and devout Darwinist Michael Ruse, for "perpetuating and canonizing a false stereotype of what science is and how it works" and that "If it goes unchallenged by the scientific community, it will raise grave doubts about that community's intellectual integrity":
"The victory in the Arkansas case was hollow, for it was achieved only at the expense of perpetuating and canonizing a false stereotype of what science is and how it works. If it goes unchallenged by the scientific community, it will raise grave doubts about that community's intellectual integrity. No one familiar with the issues can really believe that anything important was settled through anachronistic efforts to revive a variety of discredited criteria for distinguishing between the scientific and the non-scientific. Fifty years ago, Clarence Darrow asked, a propos the Scopes trial, `Isn't it difficult to realize that a trial of this kind is possible in the twentieth century in the United States of America?' We can raise that question anew, with the added irony that, this time, the pro-science forces are defending a philosophy of science which is, in its way, every bit as outmoded as the `science' of the creationists." (Laudan L., "Science at the Bar-Causes for Concern," in Ruse M., ed., "But is it Science?: The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy," Prometheus Books: Amherst NY, 1996, p.355)
The fact is, as I was taught in the philosophy of science unit of my biology degree, there simply is no way to determine what is, and what is not, "science", and so the real question is not, "is it science?" but "is it true"? That is, "is it supported by the evidence?" And whether ID (i.e. the theory there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature) is true is not something that a judge (who is after all just a lawyer) can simply decree to be not science. See Stephen Meyer's "Expert Report Part 3: The Failure of Demarcation Arguments" which was prepared for the Dover trial (but because Meyer never appeared could not be officially accepted as evidence-not that Judge Jones would have taken any notice of it anyway!]

Jones ruled against an October 2004 school board policy that required students of a ninth-grade biology class in the Dover Area School District to hear a one-minute statement that says evolution is a theory, and intelligent design "is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." Proponents of intelligent design say it draws on recent discoveries in physics, biochemistry and related disciplines that indicate some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. Proponents include scientists at numerous universities and science organizations worldwide. [ID, unlike creation-science, is based solely on the evidence of nature and if it is scientific for Darwinian evolution to advance the proposition that there is no design in nature, then it is equally scientific for ID to advance the counter-proposition that there is design in nature.]

Jones determined Dover board members violated the U.S. Constitution's ban on congressional establishment of religion and charged that several members lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs. [This is self-evidently absurd! How can reading to students a brief statement before an evolution class that there are problems with the theory of evolution and there is ID material in the library for students interested in an alternative, be a "congressional establishment of religion"? A prime example of Mr Bumble's observation in Oliver Twist : "If the law supposes that ... [then] the law is a ass-a idiot"!

But amazingly, on the very same day that Judge Jones delivered his ruling, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state" and "the ACLU's `repeated reference 'to the separation of church and state' ... has grown tiresome" and it "does not embody the reasonable person" (my emphasis)

1st Amendment 'doesn't create church-state wall of separation': Court whacks civil-liberties group, OKs Ten Commandments display, WorldNetDaily, December 20 2005 ... A U.S. appeals court today upheld the decision of a lower court in allowing the inclusion of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse display, hammering the American Civil Liberties Union and declaring, "The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state." Attorneys from the American Center for Law and Justice successfully argued the case on behalf of Mercer County, Ky., and a display of historical documents placed in the county courthouse. The panel voted 3-0 to reject the ACLU's contention the display violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The county display the ACLU sued over included the Ten Commandments, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Star Spangled Banner, the national motto, the preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights to the U. S. Constitution and a picture of Lady Justice. Writing for the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard Suhrheinrich said the ACLU's "repeated reference 'to the separation of church and state' ... has grown tiresome. The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state." Suhrheinrich wrote: "The ACLU, an organization whose mission is 'to ensure that ... the government [is kept] out of the religion business,' does not embody the reasonable person." The court said a reasonable observer of Mercer County's display appreciates "the role religion has played in our governmental institutions, and finds it historically appropriate and traditionally acceptable for a state to include religious influences, even in the form of sacred texts, in honoring American traditions."
This ruling will be very important, especially if it is appealed by the ACLU to the Supreme Court and upheld. In that case Judge Jones might indeed go down in history - as the last judge to slavishly follow the ACLU's "not ... reasonable person" line on the First Amendment!]

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy," Jones wrote. "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy." West asserted Jones "conflated Discovery Institute's position with that of the Dover School Board, and he totally misrepresents intelligent design and the motivations of the scientists who research it." [This was perhaps one of the most inept aspect of Jones' ruling-his failure to distinguish between the Dover board (who in the trial were forced to admit that they knew very little about ID), and the ID movement itself, as represented by the Discovery Institute and it's position, which was opposed to the Dover board's policy, calling it "misguided" and calling for its "withdrawal":

"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 judge reached "well beyond the immediate legal questions before him," West contended, offering "wide-ranging and sometimes angry comments denouncing intelligent design and praising Darwinian evolution." [Agreed that Jones exceeded his brief. He sounds like the sort of theistic naturalistic/gnostic evolutionist that one encounters on Internet lists, who make "angry comments denouncing intelligent design and praising Darwinian evolution", even more than some atheists! In fact I heard a radio clip of Michael Ruse marveling that Jones, a Christian sounded, "outraged" at ID! Hardly the even-handed impartiality that one expects of a judge.]

"Judge Jones found that the Dover board violated the Establishment Clause because it acted from religious motives. That should have been the end to the case," said West. [Actually, I heard another radio clip by Christian leader saying that to rule out those with "religious motives" is to disenfranchise the majority of the population! Obviously there is a huge distance between individuals on a school board acting from "religious motives" and congress establishing a religion!]

"Instead, Judge Jones got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion, and evolution. He makes it clear that he wants his place in history as the judge who issued a definitive decision about intelligent design. This is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur." [Agreed. Quite clearly Jones had his own hidden agenda and the trial was a waste of time-he obviously took no notice of the pro-ID expert witnesses and could have written his ruling without hearing them.]

Jones anticipated the charge of judicial activism, writing in his opinion: Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. [It is significant that Jones "anticipated the charge of judicial activism" because it shows that he was conscious of him being so. But it is no defence for him to claim "this is manifestly not an activist Court", because judges can be conservative on most topics and activist on only a few.]

The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has not been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources. [This is `over the top'. The Dover school board members were just ordinary people who, with the best of intentions, got into something way beyond their depth. If Jones was really concerned with the "waste of monetary and personal resources" then he could have issued a summary judgment as requested by the Dover board:

"The attorney for the Dover Area School Board calls his client's decision to include intelligent design into the biology curriculum a "modest proposal." "That this very modest proposal is in fact a violation of the (First Amendment's) establishment clause is ridiculous," said Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center. But apparently a federal judge thinks that it's at least a possibility. 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." The trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 26 in Harrisburg federal court. "We're disappointed, but not surprised," Thompson said." ("Lawsuit over intelligent design moves forward," York Daily Record, September 14, 2005)
But then Judge Jones would not have had his "opportunity to rule in matters of great importance" in "one of the most significant cases in United States history"!]

[Continued in part #2]

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

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