Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent-design decision expected Tuesday

I only have time to comment on one article in `the calm before the storm' of the expected judge's ruling today, Tuesday 20 December (Harrisburg time) in the Dover (Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al) trial. My comments are bold and in square brackets. See also articles:

Intelligent-design decision expected Tuesday: Darwin's defenders and detractors set for federal ruling, MSNBC, Dec. 19, 2005 ... HARRISBURG, Pa. - A ruling in a landmark federal "intelligent design" trial is expected to be handed down Tuesday, according to court officials. [The NCSE website has a copy of an email from the U.S. Federal Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, which includes:"Judge Jones is expected to file his Opinion in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case at some point tomorrow [Tuesday, December 20, 2005]." The email goes on to say that the opinion will be posted to the court website but that "heavy volume on the web site" is anticipated. The New York Times says that one of Judge Jones' clerks "hinted that the decision was long" so presumably it is going to be a very weighty PDF file?]

Judge John E. Jones III's response to six weeks of testimony could determine whether the concept - which attributes the origin of life and the emergence of highly complex life forms to an unidentified intelligent force - can be mentioned in public school science classes. [Again, this is setting up a false straw man. ID is a theory about design, not a theory about a designer. Specifically, ID is the scientific theory that there is empirically detectable evidence of design in nature. ID "does NOT claim that ... the intelligent cause must be a ... force":

"1. What is the theory of intelligent design? The scientific theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Note: Intelligent design theory does NOT claim that science can determine the identity of the intelligent cause. Nor does it claim that the intelligent cause must be a `divine being' or a `higher power' or an `all-powerful force.' All it proposes is that science can identify whether certain features of the natural world are the products of intelligence." ("Top Questions and Answers About Intelligent Design Theory," Discovery Institute, September 8, 2005. Emphasis original).]

An advisory e-mailed Monday from the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg said "Judge Jones is expected to file his opinion in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case at some point" on Tuesday. The advisory confirmed reports passed along by the plaintiffs in the case, who are challenging a school district policy requiring references to intelligent design. Plaintiffs' attorneys are planning a news conference in front of the Harrisburg courthouse where the case was heard this fall. Scientists from the National Center for Science Education, which assisted plaintiffs in the case, are flying in from California for the decision. "We feel very good about the case we presented," said Eric Rothschild, the plaintiffs' lead attorney. [As previously pointed out, Rothschild is "a member of the Legal Advisory Board of the National Center for Science Education" which means that the NCSE has been a hidden (and perhaps the most important) player in the anti-ID side, so it is fitting that now the NCSE takes centre stage, not the ACLU.]

Defense lawyers said they will wait and see. "There's not much that we can do," said Richard Thompson of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Thomas More Law Center. "It's out of our hands." [I would have expected more than that from the TMLC. If they have been correctly reported, then almost seems that they expect to lose and are distancing themselves from the case?]

The Dover Area School Board voted a year ago to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design before learning about evolution. The statement says Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps," and it refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information. [Here again is the text of this 1-minute statement:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve (`Intelligent design' faces first big court test, MSNBC, Sept. 23, 2005)]

Eight families sued to have intelligent design removed, contending that it is biblical creationism in disguise and therefore violates the constitutional ban on the state establishment of religion. [Again, this is false. ID is neither "biblical" nor "creationism", being based solely on the evidence of nature, not the Bible:

"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." (West J.G., "Intelligent design is sorely misunderstood," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 9, 2005)
Unlike "biblical creationism" or "creation-science":
"Section 4. Definitions. As used in this Act: (a) "Creation-science" means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds." (Zetterberg J.P., ed., "The Arkansas Creationism Act (1981)," in "Evolution Versus Creationism: The Public Education Controversy," Oryx Press: Phoenix AZ, 1983, p.398)
which is what USA courts have ruled "violates the constitutional ban on the state establishment of religion", ID does not attempt to show that there was "'A relatively recent [i.e. ~10,000 years ago] inception of the earth and living kinds", or that the fossil record was laid down by "a worldwide flood", or that there was a "Separate ancestry for man and apes." For example, one of ID's leaders (and a key defense witness in the Dover trial), biochemistry professor Michael Behe has stated that he accepts that "the universe is ... billions of years old" and "that all organisms share a common ancestor" (as I do):
"Evolution is a controversial topic, so it is necessary to address a few basic questions at the beginning of the book. Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it." (Behe M.J., "Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution," Free Press: New York NY, 1996, pp.5-6).]

Jones' ruling could go in one of three directions, legal experts have said. He could rule in support of the school district's decision that intelligent design in high-school biology class does not violate the First Amendment, thereby paving the way for the concept to be introduced in public schools across the country. [I expect that this is what Judge Jones will rule. He does not actually have to rule that ID is science, just that it is not "religion" and so does not violate the Supreme Court's interpretations of the First Amendment.]

Or he could decide that intelligent design is unconstitutional because it's religion disguised as science. [I consider that there in no likelihood that Judge Jones would rule that ID is "religion disguised as science," because it simply is not.]

Jones could also decide that school board members were motivated by religion when they voted to include intelligent design in the biology curriculum, but avoid ruling on whether intelligent design is legitimate science. [Judge Jones may well "avoid ruling on whether intelligent design is legitimate science" because he does not have to rule on that, and arguably it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to rule on what is, and what is not, science. All he needs to do in respect of the First Amendment is to rule on whether or not ID is "religion." The judge may also decide that the Dover "school board members were motivated by religion" and invalidate the implementation of their particular policy, even though he may even find that there was nothing unconstitutional about the policy itself, since there is a secular purpose:

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." (Lawsuit over intelligent design moves forward, York Daily Record, September 14, 2005)
of informing students that there are problems with the theory of evolution and of the existence of alternatives, including ID.

But again, given Judge Jones' statements in the context of this case that: "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" (Bad Frog Beer to 'intelligent design', Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 16, 2005); and: "It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history" (Local judge presides over intelligent design trial, Tide Lines Online, 4 November 2005); and that "One of his clerks hinted last week that the decision was long";, I consider it highly unlikely that Judge Jones will "avoid ruling on ... intelligent design" altogether and only rule narrowly on the constitutionality of the Dover board's policy.

So to sum up: (1) I consider it likely that Judge Jones will rule as constitutional the Dover board's policy itself, although he may rule that that particular board's motivation was religious and therefore its implementation was unconstitutional, but even that I consider unlikely; and (2) I consider it likely that Judge Jones will rule that ID is not "religion" in terms of the First Amendment and therefore it is not unconstitutional for ID to be taught in public schools. The latter (2) would be a devastating blow to the anti-ID side and of course it would be appealed by them all the way to the Supreme Court. Now I will wait and see how right (or wrong) I was!]

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

No comments: