Tuesday, January 31, 2006


How To Be A Non-Expert

Steve Fuller, erstwhile expert witness for the defendants in the Dover trial, has a profile in the January 31, 2006 Guardian. I certainly wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of surprise in reading about Professor Steve on their own. But this might just be enough incentive to send you there:

Fuller's research field is social epistemology . . . [which] looks at how knowledge is justified and legitimised in society. According to Fuller, what does and does not count as science is the result of a power struggle between the evolutionists, who control the scientific establishment, and a marginalised ID community with a large religious following.

Of Judge Jones, Fuller says:

The judge in the Dover case went back to the old standard of what the experts say.
A category that obviously eludes Fuller.

The best comment on this comes from John Wilkins:

Sociology of knowledge is the view that all epistemic systems are relative and equivalent, except sociology of knowledge...

Monday, January 30, 2006


French Fried

This may be the most important discovery in the history of the Earth!

Resistentialism explains so much about life as we know it. 'Les choses sont contre nous.' 'Things are against us.' Everything is out to get us, from teaspoons to computers

PZPBBBTTT . . . pop . . . crack . . . mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The Nucleus of Faith


John Wilkins, nine-fingered philosopher, Harley hater and notorious antipodian, warns us of another plot of the atheistic philosophy called "science" to destroy the faith of children and other incompetents. As John says:
For centuries, this theory and the theories of atheistic philosophers from which it arose, has been used to undercut social order. These philosophers believe that we are nothing more than the sum of our appetites, and some have even suggested that the social order, the economy, sexual behaviours, and religion are just physical causes operating upon us and within us. Epicureans believe in this theory, and it may have played a part in both the fall of the Roman Empire and in the Holocaust.
Join the fight! Don't let this anti-God theory be taught unchallenged in our schools!
Teach the controversy!!!

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Trying To Keep Up With the Joneses


Michael Francisco has an article at the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News & Views, entitled "Judge Jones said it, I believe it, that settles it - The Missing Legal Basis in Kitzmiller." Mr. Francisco, who has been identified as a second-year law student [1] at Cornell University, contends that Judge Jones’ decision, insofar as it denies that "Intelligent Design" is science, is mere dicta. Mr. Francisco then equates this supposed dicta with Judge Jones’ "personal opinion about how science curriculum should be . . . " Mr. Francisco’s main contention is that Judge Jones’ finding that Intelligent Design is not science "is absurd to anyone who respects the law. Judges should only be deciding matters of law, not declaring as authoritative his opinion on matters of politics, or philosophy, or science."
Mr. Francisco styles his article as a "detailed analysis," limited to the issues of why Judge Jones tried to answer certain questions (such as whether ID violates the ground rules of science, involves a "contrived dualism" or has been refuted by the scientific community) and what legal basis the Judge may have had for doing so. I will contend that Mr. Francisco has failed to remain within his stated limits and has wandered off into irrelevancies and even inanities. But the issues he identifies here are a good a place to start.

Mr. Francisco makes 2 main arguments in support of his contention above: 1) The issue of whether ID qualifies as science is irrelevant to an analysis of whether the Dover School Board violated the Establishment clause of the First Amendment; and 2) the case law cited by Judge Jones is sparse and, at the same time, unsupportive of either the need to address ID’s status as science or Judge Jones’ conclusions as to the constitutional effect of a finding that ID is not science.

Is ID’s Scientific Status Irrelevant to the Constitutional Issues Raised in the Dover Case?

Mr. Francisco correctly notes that there are, broadly speaking, two tests the courts use to determine if a violation of the Establishment clause has occurred: the "Lemon test" and the "endorsement test" and that the Judge discussed these tests in two separate sections of the decision. Mr. Francisco then notes that "[t]he bulk of Judge Jones’ analysis on why he thinks ID is not science appears in the endorsement test section of the opinion." (Emphasis added) Somehow, however, by the end of his article, this becomes: "Lest anyone forget, all the Kitzmiller analysis of ID not being science is supposed to fit within an endorsement test constitutional analysis" (Emphasis added) and Mr. Francisco then ignores the Lemon test section. As we will see hereafter, the omission is telling.

Mr. Francisco states his contention that ID’s status is irrelevant as follows:
The endorsement test section of Kitzmiller had four sub-sections: 1) would an objective observer know that ID evolved from creationism, 2) would an objective student view the disclaimer as endorsing religion, 3) would an objective Dover citizen view the policy as endorsing religion, and 4) "Whether ID is Science." One of these four sections is not like the others. ...
There is no attempt by Judge Jones to connect the science question with the religious endorsement legal analysis. Why is it "incumbent" on this court to "further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs"? It is not the role of the court to answer all issues raised by a party in litigation, and it is most certainly not answering a constitutional question. I cannot recall ever reading a case where the Judge candidly pronounces that it’s time to answer "an additional issue raised by the plaintiff’s," at least not without some connection to the legal decision.
It is true enough (though hardly as simple-minded as Mr. Francisco would make it) that if the court addresses "extra" arguments by the winning side that are not relevant to the basis for the court’s decision, or if the court comments on issues that are not "before the court" because they are not in dispute between the parties, any such comments by the court are considered non-binding dicta. But, if the losing side has made arguments which it contends would negate one of the contentions of the winning side or even require a different result, then it most definitely is incumbent on the court to address those arguments. Unless Mr. Francisco is merely engaging in literary criticism of Judge Jones’ decision (to the effect that the Judge did not make his reasoning clear for addressing the issue) we must go beyond the one sentence fragment he quotes on this point out of a 139 page decision and see if ID’s status was, in fact, at issue in the case.
The defendant school board certainly thought the status of ID was an issue for Judge Jones’ consideration. The following is from the closing argument on behalf of the defendants by Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center:
[T]he evidence of record demonstrates that the curriculum change at issue here had, as its primary purpose and has as its primary effect, science education. It is true that it attracts attention to a new and fledgeling (sic) science movement. But look at Steve Fuller. See it through his eyes. See it through the eyes of history and watch how he can see what may be the next great paradigm shift in science, a wholly new vista that does service to the children of this district by allowing them to put together scientific fields in a new and exciting way which is ultimately productive of scientific progress.
And there was also this from Mr. Gillen:

The plaintiffs have failed to prove that the primary effect of Dover's curriculum change is to advance religion for another reason. The evidence shows that intelligent design is science, a theory advanced in terms of empirical evidence and technical knowledge proper to scientific and academic specialties. It is not religion.

The evidence has failed to support the claim that intelligent design is a nonscientific argument that is inherently religious. The testimony and evidence offered by Behe and Dr. Scott Minnich proved that IDT is science.

Nor were the defendants alone in making assertions about ID’s status as science. The Discovery Institute itself submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to Judge Jones that included the following:
Secular purposes for teaching about the theory of intelligent design include informing students about competing scientific theories of biological origins . . .

As to the second prong of the Lemon test, plaintiffs falsely assert that the theory of intelligent design necessarily has the primary effect of advancing religion. Instead, there is every good reason to regard the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory, and thus, the primary effect of informing students about it is to improve science education and thus, the primary effect of informing students about it is to improve science education; further, the inclusion of such "alternative scientific theories" was clearly authorized by Edwards v. Aguillard. (Emphasis added) (pp. 6-7)
So the Discovery Institute argued that, if ID is science, that would satisfy the second prong of the Lemon test and negate one of the plaintiff’s arguments as to why the Dover policy was unconstitutional. That certainly makes the status of ID relevant to the Judge’s decision under the Lemon test. That is why it is interesting (to say the least) that Mr. Francisco ignored Judge Jones where he said:
While the Third Circuit formally treats the endorsement test and the Lemon test as distinct inquiries to be treated in succession, it has continued to recognize the relationship between the two. Moreover, because the Lemon effect test largely covers the same ground as the endorsement test, we will incorporate our extensive factual findings and legal conclusions made under the endorsement analysis by reference here, in accordance with Third Circuit practice. (Citation omitted) (p.133)
In other words, while the analysis of ID’s status was, as Mr. Francisco noted, physically located in the endorsement test section, it was also crucial, as the Discovery Institute’s own brief claimed, to the application of the Lemon test. Under these circumstances, the assertion by a spokesperson for the Discovery Institute that Judge Jones’ finding of fact was irrelevant to the issues in the case is, at best, disingenuous.
It should also be noted that the above answers the Discovery Institute's assertion, accurately predicted by Judge Jones, that the decision was the result of an "activist judge," who reached "well beyond the immediate legal questions before him" by addressing more than the bare minimum needed to find that the Dover policy was unconstitutional. Not only is it the proper procedure in the Third Circuit to apply both the Lemon and endorsement tests, it is routine for a trial court to supply all the possible rationales for its ruling, in case one justification is found to be inapplicable but another would, nonetheless, dictate the same result.
Finally, and for irony’s sake, it has to be pointed out that Mr. Francisco contradicts himself about the relevance of ID’s status. As he states, in his discussion of the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (that I will return to), the Supreme Court noted in that case: "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." (Edwards at 594) But Mr. Francisco goes on to say: "Much of the ID Policy that Kitzmiller ruled on can fairly be considered scientific critiques of the prevailing theory." (Emphasis added) If Mr. Francisco and the Discovery Institute are going to take cover under Edwards, they have to live up to the requirement the Court set, that they provide scientific critiques. ID advocates had the opportunity to prove to an impartial judge that it was fairly said that ID is scientific. They failed miserably and, having done so, the Discovery Institute now wants to call a "do over" by pretending that Judge Jones’ findings of fact are mere "personal opinion" instead of the considered judgment of an obviously competent jurist who had the benefit of some 21 days worth of testimony and extensive briefs to draw on, including the Discovery Institute’s own.
Was the Case Law Cited By Judge Jones Sufficient to Support His Ruling In This Case?
First let me dispose of one of Mr. Francisco’s inanities. He notes that in Judge Jones fourth sub-section, "Whether ID is Science," in his discussion of the endorsement test, "Judge Jones only refers to case law three times. For a section that runs 25 pages (64–89), that is strikingly sparse."
Considering that this section is only 18% of the decision and is specifically dealing with findings of fact based on the recitation of the extensive trial testimony and exhibits, it is hardly unusual that case law is not heavily referred to in it. Nor am I aware of any minimum number of precedents necessary to support a decision. A single apropos Supreme Court precedent is sufficient for almost any purpose. Like any good magician practicing sleight of hand, Mr. Francisco would have you counting the number of citations in this section rather than paying attention to the devastating litany of facts demonstrating the utter lack of scientific merit to ID and its status, instead, as barely disguised theology.

Returning to Mr. Francisco’s treatment of Judge Jones’ use of Edwards v. Aguillard, I’ll pass by Mr. Francisco’s naked assertion that there is a "difference in challenging methodological naturalism and supernatural causation" and that "ID does not advocate supernatural causation." And I’ll just mention another of Mr. Francisco’s inanities in his argument that Judge Jones must be wrong about Edwards declaring supernatural causation an "inherently religious" concept because the word "inherent" appears nowhere in Edwards. [2] The Court there called creationism a concept that "embodies the religious belief [in] a supernatural creator," (Emphasis added) (p. 592). Perhaps a mind so constipated as to be unable to grasp evolutionary theory cannot see the similarity between "inherent" and "embodied."
What cannot be overlooked is the following:
The Edwards Court stated that "[t]here is a historic and contemporaneous link between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution." (Edwards at 591). The Court was concerned only with the Louisiana balanced treatment law, not any general question of supernatural causation. "The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind." (Edwards at 592) The case went on to examine "the legislature that adopted this Act" and the "legislative history." This was clearly fact-specific to Louisiana and completely inapplicable to intelligent design two decades later in a different state.
This is so confused as to make it difficult to even determine what Mr. Francisco’s point is. Most appellate court cases, and all Federal Court cases which are not moot, are "fact-specific." Federal courts are restricted to hearing "cases in controversy." Unlike state appellate courts (who rarely exercise the power in any event), Federal courts cannot issue "advisory opinions" answering general legal questions not tied to specific fact patterns. The value of a court decision as precedent is not limited merely to cases with identical fact patterns. Courts consciously seek to state rules of law that can be applied to broad areas of the law and modified, if need be, to analogous situations even farther afield. Two hundred plus years of American jurisprudence has had no difficulty in applying rules of law derived from one set of facts to cases with different facts.

This can be seen in Edwards itself, where the Court cites to cases with diverse fact patterns, including: a State requiring that the Ten Commandments be posted in public classrooms, a statute requiring the selection and reading of verses from the Bible, as well as the recitation of the Lord's Prayer by the students in unison, and a law providing for a 1-minute period for meditation. None of those cases dealt with creation science or the specific law in Louisiana but they were still considered controlling as to relevant points in the case, just as Edwards was relevant to the situation in Dover.

Of course, if there is a difference in the facts that should dictate a different result than in the case cited, that is another matter. But Mr. Francisco makes no attempt to show such a distinction but merely asserts that Edwards is "completely inapplicable to intelligent design two decades later in a different state." [3]

Now, Mr. Francisco may not want to try to distinguish the creation science at issue in Edwards and ID because that would just point up that the only relevant way to establish that difference is by showing that ID is science, again demonstrating the relevance of Judge Jones determination of that issue. His reluctance might also have something to do with the embarrassing ease with which the creation science textbook, Of Pandas and People, was converted into an Intelligent Design textbook.

Finally on this point, it should be noted that Mr. Francisco cites with approval the following statement from Edwards: "We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught." Applying his own standards, that is not only dicta, since it did not address any issues before the court at that time, it is, therefore, only the "personal opinion" of Justice Brennan that is completely inapplicable to intelligent design two decades later in different parts of the country. Such are the wages of wielding legal nihilism.

Without conceding Mr. Francisco’s characterizations of the logic behind the decision in McLean v. Arkansas, there is little use in going into that case, since Mr. Francisco dismisses McLean, saying: "McLean came several years before the Supreme Court started employing the endorsement test – so Judge Jones should have explained how that case remains relevant." It seems almost cruel to point out to Mr. Francisco that Edwards (where McLean was cited favorably by Justice Brennan, writing for the Court, and Justices Powell and O’Connor in their concurrence) was also decided before County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573 (1989) first implemented the endorsement test. Mr. Francisco seems to have no problem with the relevance of Edwards. Indeed, as noted before, the endorsement test was not intended to replace prior standards, such as the Lemon test, but to be read with them. In such a circumstance, it would be more appropriate to ask why McLean would not be relevant.
In any event, Mr. Francisco contrarily denies that Judge Jones based his determination on McLean’s logic while demanding a demonstration that it is still relevant:

The McLean court reasons that teaching creation science can have only two effects, either advancing religion or adding educational value to science. Since McLean found the Arkansas creation science to lack any scientific benefit, it reasoned that its only remaining or effect was to advance religion. However, looking at Judge Jones' reasoning in Kitzmiller, there is none of the without-science-only-religion analysis. Even the closest reading of Judge Jones pivotal conclusion to the science sub-section, page 89, shows no claim that a lack of scientific status creates a constitutional problem. Kitzmiller reads as a free-standing essay on the nature of science.

Instead of addressing the McLean case, Mr. Francisco simply declares that "there are too many differences between the McLean case and the Kitzmiller case to analyze here" and asks why it is important whether or not ID is science: "There is no legal requirement that schools must teach only true science."

This is a position that perhaps should be kept in mind the next time you hear a representative of the Discovery Institute claim that they are only interested in the good education of American children but it is essentially correct, as long as what is being taught can otherwise meet the requirements of the endorsement and Lemon tests. But that is most definitely not the same as saying that ID’s status vis a vis science is irrelevant to whether it meets those constitutional tests.
As noted before, even if the status of ID does not bear on the endorsement test, it clearly bears on the Lemon test, as the Discovery Institute argued itself. And, if nothing else, if ID could establish that it is science it would not matter if it incidentally appeared to be an endorsement of religion. Similar to the situation in the "primary effect" analysis under the Lemon case, as set out in the Discovery Institute’s own amicus curiae brief, evolutionary theory can be taught because "its primary effect is to advance science education and any effect on religion is merely incidental." If ID could only convince objective observers such as Federal judges that it was science, it could be taught too.

Mr. Francisco’s treatment of Judge Jones’ reference to Selman v. Cobb County is so perfunctory as to not warrant comment.

Other bits of irrelevancy that should be given some attention include Mr. Francisco’s equating "dicta" with "personal opinion." That is not the case at all. Even if Judge Jones’ decision about the nonscientific nature of ID were to be held to be dicta, that would not change the fact that it was based on extensive evidence considered under all the same conditions that would lead to results that would be considered "fact" in our judicial system. Again, it is nothing but legal nihilism to imply that the objectivity of the system’s fact finding mechanism is dependent only on whether a factual question is technically "at issue" or whether the result turns out to be dicta. Similarly, Mr. Francisco is wrong to assert that our courts have no business deciding what is science and what is not. As Ed Brayton has already pointed out at his site, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, the courts regularly and necessarily address such questions.

Before closing, I wish to address a pet peeve of my own. Mr. Francisco seizes on the Judge’s phrase, "[T]he Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area" opining that the word "traipse" is "a signal that the judge intends to answer questions outside the law" and tries to mock the Judge with it, repeating it three more times. Normally, I would not bother to raise this, allowing the substitution of childish behavior of the "Beavis and Butt-Head" sort (Heh, heh . . . he said "traipse") for cogent argument to speak for itself. But I am so sick of the colorless technocratic writing that has become the norm in the legal profession. Reading older decisions (and those of the best judges too secure in themselves to care about Philistines) you see a love of language and a desire to use it not just to explain but to convince, so that the consent of all citizens to the law might be secured. That Mr. Francisco might contribute by his mockery, even in a small way, to the eradication of all color from the language of the law is enough reason to dislike his article.

To sum up, the article by Mr. Francisco, far from being a detailed analysis, is a slapdash attempt to distract those unfamiliar with our legal system from the consequences of the Kitzmiller decision through a denial of the process of the law just as fundamental as ID’s denial of the process of science.


[1] I just celebrated (such as it was) my 31st anniversary as a practicing attorney and, while my specialty has never been constitutional law, I have had extensive experience in both trial and appellate practice.
[2] The phrase, as is fairly obvious from Judge Jones’ opinion at p. 67-68, actually comes from McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.
[3] One has to wonder if Mr. Francisco is aware that state borders do not interfere with the applicability of Supreme Court decisions.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Best Headline of the Week

From the Akron Beacon Journal:

The Vatican embraces Darwin
The Catholic Church gets it. Why not the Ohio school board?


Wednesday, January 25, 2006


The Noblest Part of Our Nature

For no particular reason:

The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, even at the urging of hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature. The surgeon may harden him self whilst performing an operation, for he knows that he is acting for the good of his patient; but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.

- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. 2nd edn., London, John Murray, p. 134.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006


The Right Stuff

I’ve already discussed the Discovery Institute’s inconsistent and almost hysterical reaction to the events surrounding the attempt in a Lebec, California high school to offer a course, nominally in philosophy, that addressed Intelligent Design. Actually, chickens have had calmer reactions to having their heads cut off.

Alternately decrying the course for mixing intelligent design with young earth and Biblical creationism, risking "a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level" and accusing "Darwinists" of trying to ban all mention of Intelligent Design in public schools, the DI then had the temerity to try to lay the onus of developing a constitutional course in ID onto its opponents.

Well, here is a huge head start from Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. He begins his article, "Class over: Anti-evolution forces lose another round," by setting the stage:

Have Darwin's foes become their own worst enemy?

Consider the school board in the El Tejon Unified School District in rural California. On New Year's Day they approved a month-long course called "Philosophy of Design," a thinly disguised attempt to challenge evolution by promoting intelligent design and creationism.
Then he outlines how it should be done:

Getting it right takes work. There's plenty of material to choose from: Arguments for design have a long history in theology and philosophy. All of the world's religions have something to say about human origins. And philosophy of science is a major field of study with a broad range of thinkers for students to consider. Readings from any or all of these sources could form the basis for an outstanding course of study. But to be constitutional, such a course must include a variety of perspectives presented in an objective manner by a qualified teacher.

And, finally, he provides the moral:

What's especially sad about these misguided efforts is how much they hurt education. In the best of all possible schools, students would be engaged in learning something about the history and philosophy of science, the ongoing dialogue between religion and science, and what religions have to say about creation and human origins. But that's not likely to happen as long as school officials in places like Dover and El Tejon put their opposition to evolution above what's best for the kids.
Now there is an idea! Instead of lying to them about evolutionary theory, try educating children in what you really want them to learn: theology and philosophy.

Why do I suspect that the DI won’t bite?


The Other White Meat

There is an interesting essay, "When Cosmologies Collide," by religion writer Judith Shulevitz, in Sunday’s Books section of the New York Times (needs free registration). It is mostly a review of Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism: (University of California, $19.95) and Michael Ruse’s The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Harvard University, $25.95) but a bit more wide-ranging.

If Shulevitz is reporting accurately, Scott’s book is a straightforward explanation of why scientists accept evolution and why creationist arguments are bogus. Ruse’s tome appears to be more controversial and perhaps, therefore, more interesting.

Ruse supposedly posits the existence of what he unfortunately calls "evolutionism," a part of evolutionary thought which he claims reaches beyond testable science and has a metaphysical agenda to address questions of origins, the meaning of life, morality, as well as the future of H. sapiens and the role we have in all of that. The term is unfortunate because it is one that creationists have already appropriated for use in a far broader sense than Ruse probably intends and because its kin-word, "evolutionist," is a valid term for an evolutionary biologist in use among scientists and, consequently, has a meaning far from either the creationists’ or Ruse’s usage. At the very least, because of Ruse’s choice of terminology, we can expect some juicy quote mines from Ruse’s book to be circulated.

That is not to say that Ruse doesn’t have a point. There certainly are people who treat science in general and evolutionary theory in particular as the universal solvent of human moral and philosophical issues. But I doubt they constitute much in terms of either raw numbers or as a percentage of working scientists. Without naming names, these people may have, ironically, an exaggerated impact on some sectors of society precisely because they are attacked by the religious right. That very opposition increases book sales for these advocates, a fact certainly not lost on them, resulting in even more of the same, with it all ending in something rather like a feedback loop.

I won’t even get into Ruse’s reported attempt to cast this conflict in the light of premillennialism and postmillennialism, an idea that strikes me as so bizarre that I’ll only believe it if I see it (pretty much guaranteeing I’ll buy Ruse’s book and maybe contribute to a slightly different feedback loop). In any event, Shulevitz promises us that Ruse takes the reader on a sweeping tour of evolutionism and proto-evolutionism, starting with the Old Testament. It has been my experience that Ruse is much better at the history of ideas than he is at the philosophy of science. If Shulevitz is telling us true, there should be pleasures enough in Ruse’s book to justify the price.

All of which said, those parts of the article were not what really caught my attention. It was this part from the very first paragraph:

In the merely controversial part of his decision last month banning "intelligent design" from biology classes in Dover, Pa., Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design, a theory that attributes the complexity of life to supernatural causes, amounts to religion, not science. In the part that really drove some of the theory's supporters crazy, he pronounced it "utterly false" to think that evolution is incompatible with faith in God. An editorialist on the Web site of the Discovery Institute, a research group that promotes intelligent design, declared that the judge had no right to tell him what to believe. "This is like a judge assuring us that it is 'utterly false' that Judaism is inconsistent with eating pork," he wrote.

Going to the Discovery Institute’s blog, Evolution News & Views, from December 21, 2005, we find that the original complaint by Robert Crowther is as follows:

Perhaps most startling and ironic about the case was Judge Jones' adoption of the testimony of John Haught, a theologian who testified for the ACLU. Haught gave his opinion that ID is religion, not science, but he quickly assured the court that there is no incompatibility between evolution and religion. Judge Jones picked up on this assurance and at the end of his opinion stated:
"Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs' scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

This is like a judge assuring us that it is "utterly false" that Judaism is inconsistent with eating pork. "After all," a judge might say, "A distinguished rabbi testified that true Judaism no longer emphasizes dietary laws, but focuses on the ethical duties we owe to one another." Alarm bells should go off when a judge believes that he can resolve hotly contested issues about what someone's religion does or does not permit.
Cowther conveniently ignores where the Judge states that evolution is not "antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general," something that is daily demonstrated by millions of believers who nonetheless accept science. Many mainstream denominations have no problem recognizing that evolutionary theory is not antithetical to a belief in God. Perhaps the most striking example of this of late is The Clergy Letter Project which has collected over 10,000 signatures (rather putting to shame the Discovery Institute’s list of 400 scientists who either don’t understand science or who are political naïfs) on a letter that reads, in part:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.

Cowther’s analogy is literally standing on its head. It should read (if Cowther had the slightest intent of fairly representing the decision) "This is like a judge assuring us that it is "utterly false" that eating pork is inconsistent with a belief in a supreme being or religion in general just because many Jews think it is." Somehow, I think most of Cowther’s target audience would accept that contention. Of course, such a scenario would arise only if a Jewish organization cooked up a political movement to surreptitiously stop the serving of pork in any public school cafeteria . . .

For a final irony, Casey Luskin, The Discovery Institute’s peripatetic spokesperson and general shill, previously denigrated an ACLU FAQ making the same point as Judge Jones did after seeing the evidence. According to Casey:

[I]t is not clear why the ACLU makes this point because nothing in Pandas (or the Dover Policy) indicates that evolution is anti-religious. Perhaps I am ignorant about some of the facts of the case where the Dover School Board stated evolution was anti-religious. I have no idea. But as far as I can tell, I can find nothing indicating that it characterizes evolution as anti-religious.

If Casey really is ignorant of why the Judge would make this point, maybe he should walk down the hall and have a little talk with Robert Cowther.

Of course, this is just another example of the DI speaking out of many sides of its mouth in an attempt to satisfy the numerous interests it is trying to keep under the "big tent," while also maintaining a facade of reasonableness for the sake of the general public.

Consistency is one early casualty of a lack of commitment to speaking the truth.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


PZ Is Dealt a Bad Card

PZ Myers is having a good time over at his blog, Pharyngula, kvetching about a painful-to-read pro-ID article by Orson Scott Card. PZ's demolition is well worth a look. However, this part of Card's article is too much of a hoot not to get some separate notice:
Card complains that, while IDeologists (according to him) try to explain science to laypeople, "Darwinists" "tell the general public that we're too dumb to understand the subtleties of biochemistry, so it's not even worth trying to explain to us why the Designists are wrong." (PZ has a good list of many works by evolutionists where they try hard not to explain science to laypeople but fail miserably.)

Anyway, Card goes on:

When Darwinists do seem to explain, it's only to point out some error or omission in the Designists' explanation of a biochemical system. Some left-out step, or some point where they got the chemistry wrong. They think if they can shoot down one or two minor points, then the whole problem will go away.

So what is the explanation of why the IDeologists get these "minor points" wrong? Among other things:

The Designists are working from secondary sources, so they are naturally several years behind. Of course a scientist who is current in the field will understand the processes better, and can easily dismiss the Designists as using old, outmoded models of how the systems work.

Now, let's see . . . what could the reason possibly be that IDeologists are "working from secondary sources" instead of being "current in the field"?

Don't tell me . . . it'll come to me . . .

Saturday, January 21, 2006


The Scylla and Charybdis of Politics

All it's asking is when you get done teaching your evolution, is (say) there is no consensus, and there are other theories. . . . We're trying to protect our kids. That professor they brought in from the BYU talking about (how) we evolved from chimpanzees, he don't know that.
Well, the reference to BYU (Brigham Young University) may have tipped you off that the above is about the bill that just passed the state Senate in Utah that would require science teachers in public schools to tell their students that the state does not endorse any scientific theory about the origins of life or the present state of man and that scientists are not in complete agreement on evolutionary theory.

Now, it is almost certain that the speaker above misunderstood "that professor" from BYU. It is most unlikely that any academic speaking out against the bill would claim that chimpanzees are human ancestors instead of our cousins -- that is, descended from a common ancestor they shared with H. sapiens. People educated in biology would not be so ignorant of the state of evolutionary theory -- not until this bill has a chance to work its magic, at least.

So who was the speaker? Was it an ordinary member of the public bringing more passion than knowledge to the debate and perhaps misunderstanding the issues the bill seeks to address? Almost right. That is a perfect description of the speaker . . . except for one thing: he is not just some audience member stepping up to a microphone. The speaker is no less than Utah Sen. Chris Buttars, the Republican who sponsored the bill.

Buttars faces a classic problem in politics: What good is it if you specifically do something to satisfy the wishes of your constituents if you don’t let them know what you are doing and why? But what if your constituents desire something that, say, conflicts with the Constitution? In that case, being explicit about what you are doing is going to result in your statements being used in evidence against the law in any court challenge. Now, this is not a problem for an elected official who is out only to garner political capital and does not care what the ultimate fate of the law is. It might even suit such a cynic’s interests better if the law is overturned by the courts, giving him or her another issue ("I tell you, we have to get rid of these activist judges . . .") with which to fire up the troops while not having to promise to do anything concrete that might come back home to roost.

My impression, admittedly from long distance and based on nothing except what his public statements during this contretemps reveal about him, is that Buttars is not such a cynic but a real True Believer™. Certainly, the above quote, and many more besides, do not bespeak a sophistication that permits multiple layers of motivation and nuanced manipulation of public opinion.

In any case, back to Buttars' problem: He is certainly aware of roadblocks his bill faces if it becomes law. He amended the bill on the Senate floor to add the word "scientific" in two sentences of the bill that mandate that students consider opposing "scientific" viewpoints regarding the origins of life and the current state of the human race, and requiring schools to inform students that not all scientists agree on which "scientific" theory is correct. He maintained that those changes should satisfy the opponents of the bill that his motives are not religious in nature. He also said this:

My bill from the get-go never included anything about intelligent design, creationism or any faith-based philosophy. When the bill came out, everybody ignored that.
Well, maybe they did because Buttars was sending other signals to his constituency all along. For example, last August he asked the State Board of Education to include language in the curriculum to the effect that humans didn't evolve from any other species. He also sought to have the teaching of Intelligent Design (though, to his credit, in a humanities or other non-science class) linked to whether or not evolution is taught.
Perhaps most blatant was his statement to the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schlafly’s organization for pushing ultraconservative positions on social issues, such as gay marriage and reproductive freedom. It is probably no accident that Buttars chose the Eagle Forum to speak to about his bill. Phyllis Schlafly had already condemned Judge John E. Jones III for his decision in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Intelligent Design case. In doing so, she accused the Judge of sticking a "knife in the backs" of "millions of evangelical Christians" who voted for George Bush who, in turn, appointed Jones to the bench. All this despite Intelligent Design advocates denying, as does Buttars, any religious intent.

But remember Buttars’ statement above about his bill being about "trying to protect our kids"? A laudable sentiment and certainly a goal within the appropriate secular objectives of government. But just what is he protecting them from? He made that clear before the Eagle Forum folks:

Teaching evolution while leaving out creationism "hurts young people,"' Buttars said.

He cited a mother who said her two daughters were told by a teacher that they evolved from animals, and, "It totally destroyed their faith."
So we already know the bill is not about protecting children from overstatements about the level of certainty they should place in science generally, since an amendment to replace references to "the origins of life" or "present state of the human race" with "scientific theory," reflecting the tentative nature of all science, was defeated by the bill’s supporters. It certainly isn’t about informing children of "opposing scientific viewpoints" because, as the case in Dover has shown beyond everything but unreasonable doubt, there aren’t any. Nor is it about there being "no consensus" about evolution within science, because there most certainly is one (though one suspects Buttars hasn’t looked up the word of late).

At the Eagle Forum annual convention Buttars needed to, and did, tell his constituents exactly what he wanted to accomplish. In doing so, he told anyone else willing to listen that the bill is all about the protection of one minority religious view concerning the relationship between science and faith. And he could not help but tell us that he is willing to subvert the Constitution in any way he feels necessary to achieve that end.

Too bad he cannot tell us that he will not stoop to any lie, will not employ any ruse, will not distort any position in his pursuit of his goal . . . at least not so as anyone with a lick of sense would believe him anymore.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Down and Dirty

This deserves to be seen by as many people as possible so, just to throw in the occasional eyeballs that land here, you really ought to go to Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, to see exactly what kind of mental and moral midget was the best that William Dembski could find among the ID crowd to take over his blog when he threw in the towel. Look especially for this attempt at criticism of a well-known scientist:
Russians are notoriously paranoid conspiracy theorists and bald faced liars.
It brings to mind Judge Jones' comment in the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover:
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.
I guess calumny is pretty much the same as perjury to these people.

Hi, My Name Is . . .

All right, maybe I’m fixating a little on the Discovery Institute’s reaction to the Lebec, California case. But just because I’ve done a post . . . or two . . . or three . . . whatever . . . about it, doesn’t mean I have a problem or anything. I can quit anytime I like.

Tell you what, that’s just what I’ll do. I’ll quit . . . right after I have this last one for the road:

On the Discovery Institute’s website, Evolution News & Views, in an article entitled "Then Americans United Okay With Intelligent Design in Philosophy, Now Americans United Seeking To Stamp It Out Across The Board," dated January 17th and contemporaneous with the already conflicting positions it has taken since the settlement, the DI claimed that Americans United for Separation of Church and State position on ID was that it wanted "to ban it from all classes."

They reached this conclusion based on the following quote from Ayesah Khan, legal director for Americans United (all emphasis added):

This [the Lebec settlement] sends a strong signal to school districts across the country that they cannot promote creationism or intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, whether they do so in a science class or a humanities class.

Which they claim contradicts this statement from the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United:

[Y]ou can, in fact, talk about creation stories from a multitude of religions. It ought to be to be in a social studies class, not in a biology class.

So, basically, what the DI is trying to do is to turn the lack of reading comprehension into a political movement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Every Which Way . . .

If you follow Casey Luskin’s statements over the last few days, it is hard to see where the Discovery Institute thinks it is going with Intelligent Design in the wake of the Debacle in Dover.

Luskin, an attorney and the DI’s point man on the El Tejon School District case in California, is quoted in an article dated January 18th in the Los Angeles Times as kvetching about the settlement the school board reached with Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

"What you have here is a small school district that essentially got bullied into an overreaching settlement by Americans United," said Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank that promotes intelligent design. "They want complete censorship of intelligent design from state-run schools. It's a problem, because intelligent design is a science. It's not a religious point of view." ...

[B]y promising to never again offer a course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science or intelligent design, school officials had essentially "abdicated their constitutional right to present this scientific theory in schools," Luskin said.
Never mind that the DI had its chance to convince an impartial Republican judge that ID is science and chickened out and that their fellow travelers spend six weeks attempting just that and Judge Jones' still found that the "overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." Also forget that "promote" and "endorse" have very technical meanings in Establishment clause jurisprudence, as Luskin certainly knows if he paid any attention in law school or even read Judge Jones’ decision, where both terms were extensively discussed. In point of fact, all the board did was promise not to violate the Constitution again.

But did Luskin manage to forget his own role in the case so soon? Here is what Mr. Luskin said when he appeared at the January 13, 2006 public meeting of the El Tejon School Board:

But if you do not cancel this course, and if you let this lawsuit go forward, you are going to lose and there will be a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level.

If the school board was being bullied, the DI was right there exhibiting its own set of brass knuckles.

But in a post entitled "Discovery Institute Praises School District for Withdrawing Class Misrepresenting Intelligent Design" on the DI’s blog, Evolution News & Views, dated January 17th, Luskin is quoted as saying:

We are pleased that the school district followed our recommendation to withdraw this class. From the very beginning this course was not formulated properly and was confusing students by including discussion of intelligent design with material that promoted young earth creationism as fact.
Moreover, there is no mention of evil evolutionists kneecapping innocent phys ed teachers or fitting cowering school board members with cement overshoes. Instead, Luskin goes on:

While we are pleased by the outcome in this case, we continue to believe that teaching objectively about intelligent design is permissible in public school science classes, and is certainly acceptable for philosophy or social studies courses. We offered to work with the district and with Americans United to create a philosophy course on origins which people on all sides agree would be acceptable and that they could re-teach next year.
So, ID is really science but it’s OK if it only gets taught in a philosophy course. Uh huh.

Even allowing for the usual amount of both-sides-of-the-mouth verbalization by the Discovery Institute, this seems to be deeply conflicted policy on its part. Not able to resist turning it into a PR ploy, however, the article ends with Luskin throwing down this gauntlet:

If Americans United really believes that it's OK to teach about intelligent design in philosophy or social studies courses, we challenge them to join with us to come up with an objective course that can be taught in the El Tejon district. Otherwise, it will become clear that their real goal is the suppression of any discussion of intelligent design in any classroom anywhere in the country.
I would just remind the people at the Discovery Institute that it is they who are advocating the teaching of ID in public schools against the backdrop of the decision in Dover. It should not be up to the opponents of ID to initiate the attempt to find a constitutional curriculum for it. The DI is staffed with more lawyers and philosophers than scientists and they would seem to be ideally situated, both by training and interest, to come up with a proposal that could then be evaluated by a broad spectrum of educators, philosophers and other experts.

Speaking of put up or shut up . . .

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Deer, Meet Headlights

The following is a statement that Sharon Lemburg, the teacher at the El Tejon Unified School District in Lebec, California, sent to the local weekly newspaper, The Mountain Enterprise, in "defense" of her course "Philosophy of Design":

"In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."

The idea of this class was not created on the spur of the moment. I believe that this is the class that the Lord wanted me to teach.

And despite all odds, I am teaching the class.

Some will look at this and say, "well, she has another motive ... such as to preach the Gospel." But you know that was not my intention.

My motives were honest and sincere, in that all I desired was to present an educational experience to give the students an opportunity to hear and study about the philosophers of design, to be able to critically analyze them and to learn to examine the opinions or philosopies (sic) and to weigh them . . . to ask who made the statement, what is their bias, what is their philosophy, what evidence do they bring?

Each student in my class will have the opportunity to hear and study philosophies concerning the origin of life.

These ideas represent atheistic, agnostic, liberal and Christian views. We are looking at the ways these views have shaped and changed our world views, and I am challenging these students to know what they think and what those thoughts are based on.

To know it because they believe it, not because someone else says ‘it is so,’ but to become critical thinkers who can express their own beliefs.

--Sharon Lemburg,
Philosophy of Design instructor
January 8, 2006
I thought the assumption that there are liberals and then there are Christians most telling, as was the comparison between atheism / agnosticism and Christianity instead of "theism." One wonders if Spinoza's god would get much shrift from Ms. Lemburg . . . assuming she has ever heard of Spinoza.
Fortunately, the school board has come to its senses (if the report from the Associated Baptist Press is correct) and settled the case with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, thus saving Ms. Lemburg from becoming the Left Coast's version of William Buckingham.
According to the report, the school board has released the following statement:
No school over which the school district has authority, including the high school, shall offer, presently or in the future, the course entitled 'Philosophy of Design' or 'Philosophy of Intelligent Design' or any other course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science, or intelligent design.
As I have noted before, there are probably constitutional ways to teach ID in public schools. Presumably, the "promotes or endorses" is intended in the sense the courts have used those terms in prior Establishment cases and leaves open the possibility of a truly neutral course being offered. But given Ms. Lemburg's attempt to single-handedly prove the plaintiff's' case, it was no doubt wise of the board to scuttle her course before more damage was done.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Casey at the Bat

Casey Luskin, an attorney for the Discovery Institute, appeared at the January 13, 2006 public meeting of the El Tejon School Board in Lebec, California to comment on the "Philosophy of Design" course that is now subject to another Federal lawsuit over the status of Intelligent Design as science or religion. The DI has now published Mr. Luskin’s account of what he said before the Board.

As was the case of a letter Mr. Luskin sent to the District’s Superintendent, John W. Wight, the Discovery Institute is intent on preventing this from turning into another Dover. Mr. Luskin told the Board:

Discovery believes that the Dover case was wrongly decided, and that it is constitutional to teach about intelligent design in a science or a philosophy course. However, given the history of this course, this course threatens to become a dangerous legal precedent which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level. The young earth creationist history of this course places it on extremely shaky legal ground. ... [T]he only remedy at this point to avoid creating a dangerous legal precedent is to simply cancel the course. ...

But if you do not cancel this course, and if you let this lawsuit go forward, you are going to lose and there will be a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level. Such a decision would also threaten the scientific research of many scientists who support intelligent design.
One thing that Mr. Luskin does not make clear is how a high school course being declared unconstitutional would threaten the research of any scientist . . . unless he is saying that the only research going on in ID is being done in high schools (which would explain a lot, come to think of it).

But Mr. Luskin did actually make a reasonable proposal (setting off an intense search for the pod):

But I do not want you to think that you are without options. Cancel the course for this year, and then if you want to teach it again next year, take your time, and consult people from all sides to construct a course that everyone agrees on. You could consult people from Americans United, you could consult the Discovery Institute, you could consult other experts, and you could create a philosophy course which people on all sides agree would be acceptable. Then you could re-teach the philosophy course on origins next year.
We will have to wait to see if Mr. Luskin has struck out, however. The Board voted unanimously (apparently before Mr. Luskin’s address) to continue settlement negotiations with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, representing the plaintiffs in the case, which had proposed that the district end the class by Jan. 20, never offer it again in the future and, in exchange, Americans United would drop the lawsuit and not hold the district responsible for its legal fees. The Board made an undisclosed counterproposal that Americans United had until 2 p.m. Saturday, January 14th to accept or reject. No word yet on Americans United decision.

All of Mudville holds its breath . . .

Saturday, January 14, 2006


A Bishop Demoted to a Pawn

As someone who was raised in the Catholic Church but who long since lost that faith, I suppose I have no right to give advice to Catholic clergy. But I still hold a certain fondness for those elements of the American Catholic experience that value rigorous intellectual honesty and a love of learning and I hate to see that tradition brought low. Or maybe my wife is right that you can take the boy out of the Catholic Church, but you can’t take the Church out of the boy.

In any event, I was saddened by an article titled "Intelligent Design is more persuasive than random chance," by Robert Vasa, Bishop of the Diocese of Baker in Oregon. It is bad enough that a prelate of the Church and an heir to the likes of Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, is reduced to such puerile arguments as claiming that the attempt of science to discover naturalistic explanations for the world somehow renders meaningless such concepts as love, courage, pride, loyalty, patience, kindness, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, piety, joy and sorrow. Worse is his use of his position as a spiritual leader to weigh in on the side of a political movement seeking to circumvent the United States Constitution. But to do all that while proudly proclaiming his ignorance of what he is purporting to criticize is venal at best and, at worst, is a scandal to the faith, which, if I remember my theology aright, is most definitely not a good thing.

It was not necessary for Bishop Vasa to admit his failure to read the decision of Judge Jones in the Dover, Pennsylvania Intelligent Design Creationism case. His characterization of the decision as implying that "the concept of love in any literature whatsoever should be prohibited in public schools" because it cannot be scientifically verified is a gross distortion of Judge Jones’ well reasoned and reasonable decision that, had not the Bishop already plead laziness as an excuse, could only be put down to outright dishonesty.

Perhaps the good Bishop should consider his responsibility to bring honor to the Church when he speaks publicly . . . or not to speak at all.

Friday, January 13, 2006


Where's Omar When You Need Him?

Sadly, there is yet more trouble to report in the "big tent."

In South Carolina, State Senator Mike Fair is trying to get the state science standards related to evolution rewritten. Fair is quoted as saying:

[The proposal] doesn't introduce intelligent design or creationism or any other ism. It just says teach it all. Be critical of it. Pretty much what scientists would say. Ask why.
While it isn’t clear how "it all" relates to various isms, it seems Fair is stumbling towards a Discovery Institute approved "teach the controversy" position. Problem is, one of Fair’s supporters on the state Board of Education, Ron Wilson, a believer in a literal interpretation of the biblical account, thinks Fair doesn’t go far enough:
I think we ought to just call it what it is. It's creationism.
As the IDeologists learned to their sorrow in Dover, you can lead creationists to a school board but you can’t make ‘em think.

Meanwhile, the good folks of Lebec, California have ventured out into the treacherous waters of Intelligent Design versus evolution and may soon know what Pete Seeger meant about being waist deep in the Big Muddy.

The El Tejon Unified School District has . . . um . . . created a course for credit that purports to examine the philosophical questions surrounding ID and evolution. Having made pretty much a botch of the attempt (see the original syllabus for a prime example of letting the cat out of the bag), they got themselves sued by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which was a major player in the Dover school board case that resulted in the seminal decision by Federal Judge John E. Jones III that held that ID is a theological proposition, not a scientific one.

Some authorities have argued that ID could constitutionally be covered in comparative religion or philosophy courses. Perhaps relying on such opinions, a district teacher, Sharon Lemburg, proposed an elective course, entitled "Philosophy of Design," which is apparently being fully supported by the District’s Superintendent, John Wight. Ms. Lemburg is a special education teacher whose certification is in physical education, bringing to mind Woody Allen’s mot: "Those who can't do teach. And those who can't teach, teach gym." A casual glance at her original syllabus makes it almost superfluous to mention that she is the wife of an Assemblies of God minister.

After a couple of days of castigating "Darwinists" for being dogmatic and wanting to ban ID, the Discovery Institute woke up to the fact that, despite more than a decade of its best efforts to teach creationists the proper "nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean," the folks in Lebec had come up with a course that "wrongly mixes intelligent design with young earth creationism or Biblical creationism."

That, of course, is not the real objection to this class. Even if the young earth creationism was removed, the problem would remain that the focus is on the wrong level of the relevant philosophy. Evolutionary theory rests on exactly the same philosophical basis that underlies every other scientific field. The discussion, therefore, should be between the philosophy of science and the philosophy under which ID operates which, as we learned from Michael Behe in his testimony in Dover, would allow astrology equal scientific status with astronomy. Creationists don’t want to be seen as criticizing the whole of science, however, as that would make it all too clear that they are, in truth, intellectual Luddites who want to return the world to a pre-scientific age. The difficulty is, just as Judge Jones found it was illicit to single out evolution for "scientific" criticism because it was historically opposed by certain religious views, it is just as illicit to create a class to select evolution, out of all the sciences, for philosophical criticism.

In this light, it becomes obvious that the El Tejon Unified School District has attempted the mirror image of the original ID ploy. Despite all the DI’s protests to the contrary, the ID program was to inject a theological/philosophical proposition into elementary and high school science classes to give it the cache of science. Now, post-Dover, El Tejon seeks to take the scientific proposition that is evolutionary theory and "reduce" it to a philosophical argument mislabeled "Darwinism." In either case, the attempt to put creationism on the same epistemological footing as evolutionary theory in public schools is a violation of the Establishment clause in that it seeks to further a religious view.

This makes the letter the DI sent to the school district even more than usually ironic:

We respectfully request that you either reformulate the course by removing the young earth creationist materials or retitle the course as a course not focused on intelligent design. Otherwise, this course could be damaging to scientists and other scholars investigating intelligent design as a genuinely scientific alternative to Darwinism . . .
Perhaps the DI thinks that it has a copyright on the word "design." At the very least, one has to wonder how "scientists and other scholars" could be damaged by a high school course being found to be improper. Do you suppose Einstein, toiling away at the patent office, was worried about the Theory of Relativity being despoiled by the machinations of phys ed teachers?

Oh, wait! Einstein wasn't engaged in a political attempt to circumvent the United States Constitution, was he?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Needing All the Help They Can Get

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is suing El Tejon Unified School District in Lebec, California over a course labeled as philosophy that, among other things, was originally intended to cover Intelligent Design, as well as such things as thermodynamics and radiometric dating.

The New York Times now has an article on the story and the Gray Lady characterizes Sharon Lemburg, the teacher who proposed and organized the course as "a special education teacher."

Will the jokes ever stop coming?

Sunday, January 08, 2006


What If They Held a War . . .

There is a nice confluence in the news today. First there is an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post by Alan Cutler, a geologist and author of The Seashell on the Mountaintop about Nicolaus Steno, a scientific giant who is too little known today. As Cutler explains in the article:

Steno was primarily an anatomist, but he is best remembered for his pioneering studies in geology. In 1669 he published in Florence -- Galileo's old stomping grounds -- a startling proposal: that the fossils and rock layers of the earth, if studied scientifically, gave a chronicle of the earth's history at least as valid as the accepted version in the verses of Genesis.

If some accounts of the relationship between science and religion are credited, this should have sparked cries of "heretic" and caused the oiling of the instruments of torture and the kindling of fires. Instead,

There wasn't a peep of official complaint. Steno wasn't criticized, much less condemned. In fact, he was put on a fast track to priesthood and then a bishopric. To top it off, in 1988 he was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

The reason for this seeming disconnect is that the supposed ‘war between science and religion’ is largely a myth propagated by John William Draper, in his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1875) and Andrew Dickson White, in his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), for reasons of their own.*

Meanwhile, we also have the story of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the oldest Evangelical Lutheran Church seminary in the U.S., offering a course on the legal case over the Dover Area School District's attempt to inject intelligent design into its curriculum.

The seminary has been especially interested in the Dover story because the Rev. Warren Eshbach, a founder of Dover CARES and one of the most prominent critics of Dover's revoked intelligent design policy, is also an adjunct faculty member.

The seminary touts Eshbach's involvement in the Dover case as one of its most important issues of 2005.

Both Eshbach and Eric H. Crump, an associate professor of systematic theology, have also signed the Clergy Letter Project, in which more than 10,000 clergy signed a petition in support of the teaching of evolution.
Here is an excerpt from the Clergy Letter:

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as "one theory among others" is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.

None of this is to deny that practitioners of both science and religion have engaged in profound and bitter disputes. But Cutler sums it up well:

The historical relationship between science and religion has been as complex as any human relationship. There is no reason to think that this will change. The warfare thesis suits the polemical purposes of partisans in certain social and political debates. But it harms religion by portraying it as overly dogmatic and reactionary. It also harms science by portraying it as hostile or at least indifferent to the average person's spiritual needs.

Now if we can all just find a better place to be next time . . .

* Draper’s book was a diatribe against the Roman Catholic Church’s then recent claim of infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra and its attempt to exert authority over public institutions’ instruction in science and literature. White wrote in response to criticisms of his charter for Cornell University as a nonsectarian institution, a controversial idea at the time.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


The Sounds of Silence

The Associated Press has a story by Juliana Barbassa about what may be the next development in the evolution of anti-evolutionism. Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California is offering what purports to be a philosophy course that discusses Intelligent Design.

"It's really just a philosophy class," said John Wight, superintendent of El Tejon Unified School District. "We don't take a position."

But some in the town of 1,285 perched in the Tehachapi mountains dividing the agricultural Central Valley from Los Angeles, about 75 miles south, wonder if the "Philosophy of Design" course is a sneaky way to introduce the theory that living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher being.

Now, I've said before that ID could be Constitutionally taught in a public school philosophy course. There is no need for a "a sneaky way to introduce the theory that living things are so complex they must have been designed by a higher being," as that is a long-standing philosophical proposition. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, properly points out that it isn't the label that counts. The question, following the clear demonstration of ID's real nature at Dover, is whether this ultimately religious proposition is being governmentally endorsed as a scientific alternative to evolutionary theory.

There are certainly signs that raise concern. Apparently the teacher had actually arranged for three ID proponents to speak at the class but still listed a speaker for evolution (Francis Crick) who had been dead for a year, making it doubtful she made any real effort to have a balanced presentation. Similarly, the original course plan included 24 videos, out of which 19 supported intelligent design. And, strangely for a philosophy course taught by a social studies teacher, it supposedly covers such arcane scientific subjects as the laws of thermodynamics and how fossil dating works. It is almost an afterthought, then, to note that the teacher is married to an Assembly of God pastor.

This may be the next wave of creationist obfuscation and evasion we have been waiting to see after Judge Jones' body blow to ID. Courses labeled "philosophy" or "social studies" or "current events" that consist of nothing more than the arguments from Of Pandas and People or Icons of Evolution, stripped of even the open association with those works, may be the coming refuge of the IDeologists.

In a way, it is very sad to contemplate believing in a stealth religion or, as the title of Jerry Coyne's article put it, "The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name".

Monday, January 02, 2006


Inherit the Gas

I have been collecting examples of the attempt by the religious right to bully their beliefs into inappropriate forums. They have attacked the Judge in the Dover school board case, threatened the funding of state universities and even sought to intimidate the public in general and, in particular, their fellow believers.

And while throwing around their muscle, they pause to claim they are helpless victims of religious bias (ignoring all the previous claims that ID isn’t religious).

Never content with the back seat, Phyllis Schlafly has weighed in with a jeremiad entitled "False judge makes mockery of case for ‘intelligent design’" that combines a vicious attack on Judge Jones with self-pity as convincing as a certain lachrymose Crocodylus.

Schlafly starts off with a sentiment worthy of Boss Tweed: justice and the Constitution are political commodities that, having been bought, should stay bought:

Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.
Of course, it is somehow stabbing evangelical Christians in the back to rule against something that we have been repeatedly told is not religious. She then counsels Federal judges to shy away from any politically important cases (at least if they portend results she doesn’t like -- did she say the same about Bush v. Gore, for example?):

Jones exhibited his bias for judicial activism with public remarks that should have caused his recusal. Signaling that he would exploit the dispute, Jones boasted, "It certainly is one of the most significant cases in United States history. ... Even Charles Darwin's great grandson is attending the trial."
Maybe that "bias" for facing up to the important legal questions of the day comes from being informed about current events. Ms. Schlafly seems to find the fact that Judge Jones reads five newspapers a day some great problem, since she mentions it in the article not once but twice. She then displays all the penetrating logic that has catapulted her to the top of the intellectual wing of the religious right:

Using guilt-by-association reasoning, he implied that books published by religious groups, or by people motivated by religious convictions, can and should be banned from public school.
Putting her finger on a point repeatedly made by the Supreme Court (that injecting policies "motivated by religious convictions" into public schools is unconstitutional), she then reaches a conclusion completely opposite to everything the right has said before: that it is "activist" for a judge to follow the existing precedents.

Finally (and ya gotta love this if you are a collector of the dishonest and stupid in public life):

He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public."
Apparently Phyllis missed that Jones was denigrating them for lying under oath despite touting their religious convictions. Now, didn't somebody . . . don't tell me, the name will come to me . . . say something about Pharisees that break the least of the commandments and teach others to?
Maybe Ms. Schlafly isn't one of those millions of evangelical Christians she was talking about . . .


Dr. Tatiana Explains It All For You

Further thoughts on the New Year . . .

Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London and author of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex, has a wonderful New Years Day editorial, "Why I'm Happy I Evolved," in the New York Times:

After recounting some of the independently fascinating facts that are rife in biology (for example, that the malaria-causing single-celled parasite is actually a descendant of algae or that the sea slug Elysia chlorotica extracts chloroplasts from algae to use to manufacture energy from sunlight), she then explains how the theory of evolution illuminates these seemingly random factoids:

It's not that I have a fetish for obscure facts. It's that small facts add up to big pictures. For although Mother Nature's infinite variety seems incomprehensible at first, it is not. The forces of nature are not random; often, they are strongly predictable.

For example, if you were to discover a new species and you told me that the male is much bigger than the female, I would tell you what the mating system is likely to be: males fight each other for access to females.

Or if you discover that the male's testicles make up a large part of his weight, I can tell you that the females in his species consort with several males at a time.

Suppose you find that a particular bacterium lives exclusively in the gullets of leeches and helps them digest blood. Then I can tell you how that bacterium's genome is likely to differ from those of its free-living cousins; among other changes, the genome will be smaller, and it will have lost sets of genes that are helpful for living free but useless for living inside another being.

Because a cell is a kind of factory that produces proteins, and because proteins can have a variety of components, some of which are cheaper to synthesize than others, you might expect that proteins that are mass produced are made from cheaper components than proteins that are constructed only occasionally. And you'd be right.

The patterns are everywhere. ...

As Ms. Judson shows, echoing Theodosius Dobzhansky, it is evolutionary theory that transforms that mass of unconnected facts, no matter how interesting (or not) on their own, "into a magnificent tapestry, a tapestry we can contemplate and begin to understand."

Then comes her "take home message" that puts the lie to the fears of creationists and those who view religion as both the opiate of the masses and a good thing, that knowledge of our ancestry will somehow lower our self-worth and lead us to act in ways more appropriate to "beasts":

I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood.

Which is not to say that we are all we might wish to be. But in putting ourselves into our place in nature, in comparing ourselves with other species, we have a real hope of reaching a better understanding, and appreciation, of ourselves.
Now that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished.

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