Saturday, October 29, 2005

The case of Darwin vs God vs the US Constitution, etc

Here are news items about the Dover case, Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al, with my comments in square brackets.

The case of Darwin vs God vs the US Constitution, Daily Telegraph, 25 October 2005, Robert Matthews ... When the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania, voted last year to tweak its biology curriculum, it could not have imagined the outcome. Its members now have plenty of time to contemplate their decision, as they sit in court while experts debate bacteria, genetics and violation of the United States Constitution. The board is being sued by parents for including "intelligent design theory" (IDT) in its biology lessons. According to the parents, IDT is religious creationism dressed up as science, and thus violates the separation of state and religion required under the First Amendment. However, according to its supporters, IDT is a challenge to Darwinian evolution. IDT focuses on examples of the wonders of nature claimed to be inexplicable by anything other than the existence of a Grand Designer. In court last week, Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor and proponent of IDT, highlighted the case of the flagellum, the whip-like propulsion unit used by some bacteria. Its intricate design requires a host of separate components - and thus, according to Darwinian evolution, many different genes. The trouble is, many of those components seem useless by themselves, so it's far from clear why their genes should have survived the ruthless processes of natural selection. All of which, according to IDT advocates such as Prof Behe, leaves us with a choice. Either all these useless genes are the product of some staggeringly rare coincidence that just happened to produce the flagellum - or else they were given a helping hand by an Intelligent Designer - to wit, God. IDT thus boils down to a simple question of probabilities: which is more likely - the amazingly unlikely coincidence, or the existence of God? Hard-nosed atheists put the probability of the existence of God at precisely zero. Darwinians, meanwhile, contend that those "useless" components may once have served some crucial but as-yet undiscovered purpose. Either way, IDT forces everyone to think harder. Which is surely no bad thing, even under the US Constitution. ... [This is a good article, but spoilt by a straw man fallacy. ID does not claim the "Intelligent Designer" was "God." ID merelly claims that the bacterial flagellum is designed, i.e. the product of intelligence (as opposed to unintelligent natural processes). To be sure, IDists who are Christians like Behe (and me), assume that the designer is God, but as Behe pointed out (and Matthews must know) that conclusion is "based on theological and philosophical and historical factors":

"The intelligent design concept does not name the designer, although Behe, a Roman Catholic, testified he personally believes it to be God. `I conclude that based on theological and philosophical and historical factors,' he said." ("Professor: Evolution cannot fully explain biology," CNN, October 18, 2005).

Notice how Darwinism is unfalsifiable: "Darwinians .... contend that those `useless' components may once have served some crucial but as-yet undiscovered purpose." How can that ever be falsified? BTW, if "Hard-nosed atheists" really did "put the probability of the existence of God at precisely zero" then they would not bother wasting their time arguing against Him! ]

Former school board member denies references to `creationism', Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 27, 2005, Amy Worden ... HARRISBURG - A former Dover school board member today testified in federal court that the word "creationism" was never used by any board members before they approved a science curriculum policy change, despite witnesses' reports, board documents, and newspaper accounts stating otherwise. William Buckingham, who was called by plaintiffs' attorneys this morning as a hostile witness, said he and other board members referred only to "intelligent design" when they spoke of the need for the introduction of other scientific theories to balance evolution in high school biology classes. Buckingham, the former head of the board's curriculum committee, has been identified by witnesses and in newspaper accounts as the force behind the board's effort to introduce creationism into the classroom. At least six witnesses said they heard Buckingham make statements at school board meetings referring to Christ and creationism when discussing the proposed curriculum change. Witnesses and newspaper reports quote Buckingham as saying, "Two thousand years ago someone died on the cross, isn't someone going to stand up for him?" Under questioning by attorney Steve Harvey, Buckingham said he made that comment and others referring to the United States as a country "founded on Christianity" much earlier at a discussion of the "under God" reference in the pledge of allegiance. Harvey also pressed Buckingham on the months-long delay in ordering ninth-grade biology textbooks, leaving the science department without enough books for each student to take home. "Did you delay the approval because of the book's treatment of evolution?" Harvey asked. "That had some weight, yes," said Buckingham, who took the stand wearing a cross-shaped lapel pin with an American flag motif etched in it. ... [Unless there was a news story or some other record of this at the time, then presumably this is just inadmissible hearsay? However, see below where Buckingham was forced to admit that he did at least say in a TV interview after a meeting of "Darwin [that] ... you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism."]

Ex-School Trustee 'Misspoke' on Evolution: Former School Board Member Says He 'Misspoke' in Advocating Creationism in TV Interview, ABC News/AP, Martha Raffaele. ... HARRISBURG, Pa. Oct 27, 2005 - A former school board member who denied saying creationism should be taught alongside evolution in high school biology classes changed his story Thursday after being confronted in court with TV news footage of him making such comments. William Buckingham explained that he "misspoke" during the TV interview. .... Earlier in Thursday's court session, Buckingham claimed that he had been misquoted in stories from two newspapers that reported he advocated the teaching of creationism to counterbalance the biology textbook's material on evolution. But the plaintiffs' lawyers confronted Buckingham with a 2004 interview he gave to a news crew from WPMT-TV in York. "It's OK to teach Darwin," he said in the interview, "but you have to balance it with something else, such as creationism." Asked to explain in court, Buckingham said that he felt "ambushed" by the camera crew as he walked to his car. "I had it in my mind to make sure not to talk about creationism. I had it on my mind. I was like a deer in the headlights. I misspoke," he said. ... Creationism flip-flop comes up in trial, MSNBC, Oct. 27, 2005 ... When Stephen Harvey, the plaintiffs' lawyer, noted the similarity of the newspaper reports to what he told the TV crew, Buckingham replied, "That doesn't mean it's accurate." Buckingham moved to North Carolina in July and resigned from the board, citing health problems. ... [Also by CBS, Seattle Times & Guardian. Ex-board member Buckingham may be telling the truth that he never mentioned "Christianity" or "creationism" in the context of deliberations about the Dover board's statement, but quite frankly the previous article gives reason to doubt it. He didn't look "ambushed" to me in the interview. And if Buckingham "had it in [his]...mind to make sure not to talk about creationism" then it sounds like that was what he was really thinking of! However, just because one ex-member had difficulty in keeping separate in his mind creationism and ID, that should not cause the judge to conclude that ID is creationism. That would be to commit the genetic fallacy:

"TO argue that a claim is true or false on the basis of its origin is to commit the genetic fallacy. For example: 'Jones's idea is the result of a mystical experience, so it must be false (or true).' Or: 'Jane got that message from a Ouija board, so it must be false (or true).' These arguments are fallacious because the origin of a claim is irrelevant to its truth or falsity. Some of our greatest advances have originated in unusual ways. For example, the chemist August Kekule discovered the benzene ring while staring at a fire and seeing the image of a serpent biting its tail. The theory of evolution came to British naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace while in a delirium. Archimedes supposedly arrived at the principle of displacement while taking a bath, from which he leapt shouting, `Eureka!' The truth or falsity of an idea is determined not by where it came from, but by the evidence supporting it." (Schick T. & Vaughn L., "How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age," Mayfield: Mountain View CA, California, Second edition, 1995, p.287).
Rather, "The court, and more broadly the scientific establishment ... must evaluate the scientific claims of I.D. on their merits, not condemning them by association with their religious roots or boosters":
"As Thompson begins his cross-examination, he instinctively looks, and grins, at the jury box, where the press is sitting. `Just because you can trace an idea back to antiquity does not in and of itself make that idea invalid, does it?' Thompson asks Haught. `No,' Haught says. `Because a theory belongs to an individual of a certain faith doesn't make that theory invalid does it?' continues Thompson. No, says Haught, pointing out that many evolutionists hold various faiths or no faith at all. `It would be a fallacy to say that a scientific theory was invalid just because it comes from one particular tradition or another, wouldn't it?' `Yes.' Thompson reads from Haught's book `Deeper Than Darwin,' in which the theologian writes that proponents of I.D. are often highly trained and skilled scientists, that they are no more or less intelligent than their counterparts in evolutionary biology, and that they are neither stupid nor insane. All true, acknowledges Haught. Thompson goes to another of Haught's books and reads a section in which the theologian criticizes Robert Pennock, a Michigan State philosopher who had testified against I.D. two days earlier. In the passage, Haught takes Pennock to task for `misleading the public by conflating ID and creationism.' `And yet you have said today that they are the same. Are they the same or not?' asks Thompson. `They are not exactly the same,' says Haught, his lips trembling, clearly perturbed. Thompson reads the final sentence from an early edition of Darwin's `On the Origin of Species': `There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one ... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.' So, Thompson asks, should Darwin's `On the Origin of Species' be kept outside the science classroom because it talks about the Creator with a capital `C' breathing life into early forms? `No,' concedes Haught. Thompson then gets Haught to agree that several luminary evolutionary biologists draw metaphysical conclusions from their studies of evolution. `Yes, [Richard] Dawkins, [Edward O.] Wilson, and [Stephen Jay] Gould carelessly conflate their science with materialist ideology,' says Haught. (Materialism is the belief that reality is composed only of matter and nothing supernatural exists, except in imaginations.) `Should their work be banned from science classrooms?' `No.' The shape of Thompson's case is beginning to emerge and Judge Jones, suddenly sitting up attentively and tipping his head toward the lawyer, seems to be taking notice. The court, and more broadly the scientific establishment, Thompson argues, must evaluate the scientific claims of I.D. on their merits, not condemning them by association with their religious roots or boosters. And those I.D. claims, he is implying, are already engaged by evolutionary scientists in debate. And that engagement itself is proof of a scientific controversy worthy of teaching in schools." (Slack G., "Intelligent designer," The Thomas More Law Center, October 20, 2005)]
If this is the best evidence that the anti-IDist side can find that ID is merely Biblical creationism, then they have failed to make their case!]

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

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