Tuesday, June 13, 2006


The House Is Tumbling Down

This is my reply to the second part of the Discovery Institute's response to the New England Journal of Medicine article, "Intelligent Judging -- Evolution in the Classroom and the Courtroom" by George J. Annas. My reply to the first part: "New England Journal of Medicine Traipses Into the Kitzmiller Decision (Part I)" can be found here.

The second part of Casey Luskin's response to Mr. Annas' article is more of the same, though perhaps even more disingenuous, if possible.

Luskin starts off Part II with more whining about the findings of fact that the Judge reached after reviewing massive amounts of evidence. He points to an article by Michael Behe, after the fact, and one by Luskin himself as "rebuttal" to the decision. Behe had his chance to testify cogently in the first place and, if he failed (and he did in the opinion of most knowledgeable people outside, perhaps, ID and astrological circles), that is hardly the Judge's fault. And if Luskin thinks he could have done better on the stand, where was he and Dembski and Meyer and Wells when the trial was proceeding? If they want to dispute the result the Court reached, let them make their case under cross examination like any other witness. Of course, it is going on two decades now since they first searched-and-replaced God with the Designer without any sign of their being able to make a case good enough even for a high school curriculum, so there is no reason for anyone to hold their breath.

Luskin objects to even bringing up the fact that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community (though he does not deny that is the case). Instead, he tries to argue that such a fact is, in effect, unimportant. He bases that on the Supreme Court case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993), which he quotes to the effect that nothing in the Federal Rules of Evidence establishes "general acceptance in the scientific community" as an absolute prerequisite to admissibility in Federal court trials. He also cites to a Amici Curiae (friend of the court) Brief submitted in Daubert that was signed, among others, by Stephen Jay Gould. That Brief argued against "orthodoxy" as a test for admission of scientific evidence. Despite the fact that both the decision and the Brief are on the web, Luskin does not give links to them, for reasons I'll leave to the imagination of the reader. The Daubert case can be found here and the Brief is here.

Luskin quotes the following from the Brief:

Judgments based on scientific evidence, whether made in a laboratory or a courtroom, are undermined by a categorical refusal even to consider research or views that contradict someone's notion of the prevailing "consensus" of scientific opinion. . . . Automatically rejecting dissenting views that challenge the conventional wisdom is a dangerous fallacy, for almost every generally accepted view was once deemed eccentric or heretical. Perpetuating the reign of a supposed scientific orthodoxy in this way, whether in a research laboratory or in a courtroom, is profoundly inimical to the search for truth. A categorical refusal even to examine and consider scientific evidence that conflicts with some ill-defined notion of majority opinion is a recipe for error in any forum. . . . The quality of a scientific approach or opinion depends on the strength of its factual premises and on the depth and consistency of its reasoning, not on its appearance in a particular journal or on its popularity among other scientists.
The ellipses are interesting. The first leaves out a single short sentence:

Science progresses as much or more by the replacement of old views as by the gradual accumulation of incremental knowledge.
It seems a strange omission until you remember just what it was that Darwin's theory replaced. Perhaps Luskin felt that the faithful, set to thinking along those lines, might realize that it was ID, in its earlier and more honest manifestation as Natural Theology, that was the dominant view that was displaced by evolutionary theory.

The text represented by the second ellipsis is much more extensive, covering several paragraphs and moving into a completely different section of the Brief. Normal conventions for quoting would have at least had the text following the second ellipsis set off in its own paragraph. Among those issues omitted along with the missing text is the fact that the Brief is complaining about the Circuit court relying solely on whether or not a proposition has made it into the scientific literature as a mechanistic test of its admissibility. As the Brief put it:

The [Circuit] court thereby converted that editorial tool into something no scientist or journal editor ever meant it to be: a litmus test for scientific truth. This is not the way scientists work in their laboratories and symposia, and it is not the way that science should be used in the courtroom if the goal is to ensure the most accurate and valid judgments possible.
Specifically, the Brief complained that the:

. . . Court of Appeals did not even purport to investigate the soundness or professionalism of the expert's approach. Instead, it simply asserted, without reference to any authority drawn from the scientific community, that [a procedure] is "generally accepted by the scientific community" only when it is subject to peer-review and published.
This is completely different from what Judge Jones did. While Luskin admits, "The Court [in Daubert] did note that "general acceptance" can be used as one factor to consider in a determination of whether something is admissible as scientific evidence under the [rules of evidence], but it is not the dispositive factor," he fails to note that Judge Jones never claimed that the lack of acceptance or the paucity of peer-reviewed publication was dispositive. In fact the Judge wrote:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. [p. 64] (Emphasis added)
Judge Jones goes [on p. 83] to note that "an overwhelming number of scientists, as reflected by every scientific association that has spoken on the matter, have rejected the ID proponents’ challenge to evolution" and relates that to the fact that "ID proponents insist that evolution is unsupported by empirical evidence," and, therefore, "distort and misrepresent scientific knowledge in making their anti-evolution argument."

So Luskin's invocation of the Brief in Daubert is actually a non sequitur, dangerously close to quote mining, since Judge Jones' treatment of the import of ID's failure to achieve acceptance in the scientific community or to publish substantively is completely different than the evidentiary ruling the Brief was complaining about. In any case, Luskin fails to mention that the Court addressed the concerns of the Amicus Brief that Gould joined in:

They [the signers of the Brief] suggest that recognition of a screening role for the judge that allows for the exclusion of "invalid" evidence will sanction a stifling and repressive scientific orthodoxy and will be inimical to the search for truth. It is true that open debate is an essential part of both legal and scientific analyses. Yet there are important differences between the quest for truth in the courtroom and the quest for truth in the laboratory. Scientific conclusions are subject to perpetual revision. Law, on the other hand, must resolve disputes finally and quickly.
The Discovery Institute likes to explain its failure to come up with a teachable curriculum in Ohio by admitting that "[i]ntelligent design isn't established enough yet" to be mandated in high school science classes. The issues before Judge Jones could not wait for ID to become a science, even assuming it has a chance to do so someday, somehow. The ID advocates could not make a case that ID is science in Dover and Judge Jones would have been remiss not to rule as he did in that case with that mountain of evidence in front of him. Instead of being a "science stopper," as Luskin alleges, Judge Jones merely found what the Discovery Institute itself admits in its rare moments of candor: ID is not science now and that makes it, when there is any pretense to the contrary, what every non-science in sheep's clothing is: pseudoscience.

Next Luskin kvetches about Annas stating that "[ID] has not generated any peer-reviewed publications." As I have pointed out before, the Judge was not saying there was no literature in scientific publications that ID advocates claim as support of ID, he was saying the cited articles merely question the adequacy of some evolutionary mechanisms to explain some feature of life. Sparse attacks on some parts of evolutionary theory do not qualify ID as itself a science but are merely the manifestation of the updated "contrived dualism," borrowed from "creation science," that claims that everything that fails to support evolution is evidence of design.

More importantly, the articles Luskin points to were not presented as evidence in the Kitzmiller case. The Appendix to the Discovery Institute's Amicus Brief that Luskin cites is not evidence in a trial and Luskin, as an attorney, must know that. The Discovery Institute distanced itself from the case in Dover and it has to live with that tactical decision. Besides, as I showed before, those articles fail in the same way as the ones that were considered by Judge Jones during the trial or are not really peer reviewed or both.

Annas was writing a short summation of the case and might be forgiven for not including every nuance involved. What is Luskin's excuse for glossing over facts relevant to the very argument he is trying to make?

Luskin reserves his most bizarre claim for last: that ID has been the subject of testing or research. He bases this assertion on Scott Minnich's testimony about identifying genes that code for parts of the bacterial flagellum that, when one gene or another is disabled, results in non-motile flagella. First of all, the dispute isn't whether or not there are structures which, if a part is removed, no longer function as they presently do. So Minnich's research, while useful in identifying the particular genes coding for certain structures in the flagellum, is totally irrelevant to the dispute between evolutionary biologists and ID advocates. The issue isn't whether "irreducibly complex" (IC) structures or processes (defined as those that cease to perform its current function if certain parts are removed) exist; the issue is whether they can evolve by naturalistic means. Needless to say, biologists think they can.

More importantly for Luskin's argument, however, discovering IC structures is, at most, evidence that our present understanding of evolution is not accurate. The existence of IC structures is not evidence for a Designer, unless you are playing that "any evidence against evolution is evidence for a Designer" game that Luskin denied ID is appealing to in Part I of his screed. Evidence against present evolutionary theory isn't what ID is about . . . or so Luskin claims. But the only research he can cite to is just that sort of negative evidence in support of a contrived dualism.

One possible explanation, giving Luskin the benefit of the doubt, is that his faith has blinded him to this obvious fallacy in his argument. Another is that he hopes that you are too blind or too stupid to see it. Either way, it leaves little to recommend his article.
These are my replies to Part I and Part III.
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