Sunday, December 11, 2005

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker? #3

The third and final part of my response to The New York Times' religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein's `obituary' on ID. My comments are bold and in square brackets.

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker
The New York Times
Published: December 4, 2005

[Continued from part 2. See part 1]

In the Dover trial, where intelligent design finally got its day in court, the movement faces perhaps the greatest potential for a serious setback. The case is the first to test whether intelligent design can be taught in a public school, or whether teaching it is unconstitutional because it advances a particular religious belief. The Dover board voted last year to read students a short statement at the start of ninth-grade biology class saying that evolution is a flawed theory and intelligent design is an alternative they should study further.[The emphasis should be on "potentially". As I have said previously, here and here, my view is that there is actually very little likelihood that Judge John E. Jones III will rule against ID. There are basically two issues: 1) the Dover board's mandating the reading of a statement: 1a) informing students of gaps in the theory of evolution; and 1b) that there is an ID book Pandas and People in the school library; and 2) whether ID itself is science. The judge has to rule on 1) but can avoid ruling on 2). On 1a) Judge Jones can rule that there is/is not a legitimate secular purpose in allowing criticism of the theory of evolution. But it is hard to see how he could rule there is not a legitimate secular purpose in criticism of the theory of evolution, as per Justices Scalia and Rehnquist's dissenting ruling in the 1987 Louisiana `Balanced Treatment' trial that, "The people of Louisiana ... are quite entitled, as a secular matter, to have whatever scientific evidence there may be against evolution presented in their 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 Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist. Emphasis original)
and also given the more recent Santorum amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act, which states, "Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and prepare them to be informed participants in public discussions":
"In 2001, I offered an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act concerning science education. The amendment expressed the sense of the Senate `'that good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science. Where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and prepare them to be informed participants in public discussions.' My amendment serves as a guide for those implementing education policy. It does not force schools to teach a certain curriculum. In the science classroom, public schools should not teach intelligent design and they should certainly not teach biblical creationism. Rather, my amendment encourages educators to help students distinguish theory from fact. On June 13, 2001, the Senate approved my amendment by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of 91-8 and the amendment was included in the conference report accompanying the No Child Left Behind Act." (Santorum R., "A Balanced Approach to Teach Evolution," The Morning Call, January 23, 2005. Discovery Institute News).
So I expect the judge will rule on 1a) in favour of the Dover board, unless he considers that the board's primary motive was religious, in view of references to creationism and Christianity made by some board members. However, Judge Jones could rule that a secular purpose carried out for a religious motive is not unconstitutional, as Scalia and Rehnquist argued:
"Today's religious activism may give us the Balanced Treatment Act, but yesterday's resulted in the abolition of slavery, and tomorrow's may bring relief for famine victims." It is important to stress that the purpose forbidden by Lemon is the purpose to `advance religion.' ...'promote' religion ... `endorse religion' ... Our cases in no way imply that the Establishment Clause forbids legislators merely to act upon their religious convictions. We surely would not strike down a law providing money to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless if it could be demonstrated that, but for the religious beliefs of the legislators, the funds would not have been approved. Also, political activism by the religiously motivated is part of our heritage. Notwithstanding the majority's implication to the contrary ... we do not presume that the sole purpose of a law is to advance religion merely because it was supported strongly by organized religions or by adherents of particular faiths. ... To do so would deprive religious men and women of their right to participate in the political process. Today's religious activism may give us the Balanced Treatment Act, but yesterday's resulted in the abolition of slavery, and tomorrow's may bring relief for famine victims." (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 594 (1987). Dissenting Opinion by Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Rehnquist.
On 1b, it is difficult to see how the judge could rule that informing students that there is ID material in the library is lacking in secular purpose and therefore unconstitutional. There clearly is a legitimate secular purpose in the students knowing about ID, and letting them know in a 1-minute statement once only in a science class that there is ID material in the library is hardly teaching ID in science class!

As for 2), Goodstein herself has written, "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." (The New York Times, November 5, 2005). Given that Judge Jones has said of this case that, "I became a judge with the hope of having an opportunity to rule in matters of great importance. ... this is something I looked forward to," I consider that it is unlikely that he will rule narrowly only the Dover board, but will rule broadly on the constitutionality of teaching ID in science classes. But in that case, it is difficult to see how he could rule that ID is not science, but religion, given: 1) the expert witness evidence of Mike Behe, Stephen Fuller and Scott Minnich; and 2) that ID is not based on the Bible but solely on the evidence of nature. Therefore, I expect that Judge Jones will also rule in favour of ID's constitutionality!]

If the judge in the Dover case rules against intelligent design, the decision would be likely to dissuade other school boards from incorporating it into their curriculums. School boards might already be wary because of a simple political fact: eight of the school-board members in Dover who supported intelligent design were voted out of office in elections last month and replaced by a slate of opponents. [I very much doubt that the judge will rule against ID (see above). And even if he rules against the Dover board, it will probably be because of their particular circumstances, which the ID movement (represented by the Discovery Institute), well before the trial, publicly disassociated itself from:

Intelligent Design Might Be Meeting Its Maker? Ignorance on Display in the New York Times ... Goodstein claims that Discovery opposed the Dover policy because it feared that a negative court decision would be used to disuade other school boards from incorporating intelligent design into their curricula. This would be an odd fear for Discovery to have given that the Institute doesn't even favor having school districts incorporate ID into their curricula! In fact, Discovery opposed the Dover policy because it has consistently opposed efforts to mandate ID, and it opposed the Dover policy well before any lawsuit. ... John West ... December 4, 2005.
Even the Dover board members being voted out was more to do with the likelihood of the District losing the case and then having heavy legal costs awarded against them. Other school boards at Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Kansas have, unlike Dover, followed the ID movement's "teach the controversy" advice and have not had any legal action taken against them.]

Advocates of intelligent design perceived the risk as so great that the Discovery Institute said it had tried to dissuade the school board in Dover from going ahead and taking a stand in favor of intelligent design. The institute opposed the Dover board's action, it said, because it "politicized" what should be a scientific issue. [This is simply false! While there were extra risk factors associated with the Dover board, due to some of its members having made statements about Christianity / creationism, as John West points out above, the main reason that the Discovery Institute was opposed to Dover's attempt to force teachers to mention ID in science classes, was the ID movement's long-standing policy not to mandate the teaching of ID:

Setting the Record Straight about Discovery Institute's Role in the Dover School District Case, Discovery Institute News, November 10, 2005 ... Discovery Institute's science education policy has been consistent and clear. We strongly believe that teaching about intelligent design is constitutionally permissible, but we think mandatory inclusion of intelligent design in public school curricula is ill-advised. Instead, we recommend that schools require only that the scientific evidence for and against neo-Darwinism be taught, while not infringing on the academic freedom of teachers to present appropriate information about intelligent design if they choose. ...
There really is no excuse for Goodstein not to have done her homework, unless she deliberately wanted to mislead her readers. This latter seems to be the case, given that John West spoon-fed Goodstein the true information (see here and here) but she apprently did not want the truth to spoil a good story!]

Now, with a decision due in four or five weeks, design proponents like Mr. West of Discovery said the Dover trial was a "sideshow" - one that will have little bearing on the controversy."The future of intelligent design, as far as I'm concerned, has very little to do with the outcome of the Dover case," Mr. West said. "The future of intelligent design is tied up with academic endeavors. It rises or falls on the science." [Actually, I disagree slightly with West. My view is: 1) if the judge ruled narrowly against the Dover board's policy on the grounds that its motives were religious, then that would be a minor "sideshow." 2) if in the unlikely event the judge ruled broadly that ID was not science but religion, and therefore the teaching of ID in science classes was constitutional, then that would be a major setback for ID, which, if it was upheld on appeal to the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, the Darwinists would then use ruthlessly to suppress ID in the USA's educational system. But it seems to me that the most likely result is that Judge Jones will rule: 3) that the Dover board's policy had a legitimate secular purpose and so was constitutional, despite the evident religious motivation of some board members; and 4) that ID is a scientific theory and therefore not unconstitutional. These latter two results (or even the last one) which I consider to be the most likely result, if they are upheld through the appeals process, then it will have a major positive effect on ID!

However, I do agree with West that, in the final analysis, ID "rises or falls on the science." Or, as Tom Woodward puts it, "the recalcitrance of nature ... is the foundation of the Design assault on the Darwinian paradigm.":

"Nature's recalcitrance is the ultimately determinative factor (or limiting factor) in the shredding, shaping, or vindicating of any cosmological narrative. The reader will have noted that certain stubborn realities of nature keep coming up time after time, and they serve as the main fuel in the evidentiary debate: (1) the Cambrian explosion, now underscored and heightened in the recent discoveries in China, (2) the general absence of transitional fossils between the higher taxonomic categories outside of the Cambrian, (3) the cell's molecular systems of breathtaking complexity, recently elucidated, and (4) the quiet experiment-driven collapse of confidence in `chemical soup' scenarios for the origin of life. ... They are the stuff of anomalies, which of course in the Kuhnian vision of science may lead eventually to a genuine paradigm crisis. The four scientific realities cited above (a list that could easily be expanded) cannot be ignored in their foundational role as rhetorical weapons in the hands of Design. They and their range of possible interpretations have become the turf on which some of the fiercest battles are now fought. So the recalcitrance of nature, I propose, is the foundation of the Design assault on the Darwinian paradigm." (Woodward T.E., "Doubts about Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design," Baker: Grand Rapids MI, 2003, p.200)
And therefore ID, being based on "the recalcitrance of nature", even if it does not win in an imperfect world it will, like a "stubborn, unyielding rock", remain "resistant to extensive efforts" by its Darwinist opponents "to dig it up" and move it out of the way!:
"Burke's key insight in this connection is a neglected doctrine of recalcitrance. What does this term mean? Recalcitrance, `the state of being recalcitrant,' says Webster's Dictionary, is to be `obstinately defiant of authority or restraint,' `difficult to manage,' or `resistant.' My mental picture for recalcitrant - comes from a recent visit to our good friends John and Ruth in New Hampshire who had arduously cleared their backyard of the hundreds of granite stones embedded in the soil to plant a new lawn and garden. With great effort the boulders were dug up, one by one, and placed along the back of the property to create a crude stone wall. However, one rock was `recalcitrant'-stubbornly resistant to extensive efforts to dig it up. Soon the excavators realized that it was like the tip of an iceberg. The little recalcitrant rock was actually an incredibly gigantic boulder, perhaps thirty feet or more in diameter. In this analogy, the stubborn, unyielding rock is a symbol of a brick wall that scientific rhetoric hits- the recalcitrance of nature. McGuire and Melia use the phrase `the states- of affairs in nature' to describe this recalcitrant network of objective factual realities. Thus, they conclude, `scientific texts encounter a special `recalcitrance' from the world they hope to describe'-a stubborn tacticity that does not permit a promiscuous or unlimited range of textual construction, as scientists routinely intervene in nature." (Woodward, 2003, pp.193-194).]

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

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