20 December 2005


John Jones, over at the USDCMDP, recently posted a stinging critique of Intelligent Design, as well as a thorough recap of the events leading to the Dover, PA, creationism trial. No, Jones is not a liberal blogger. John E. Jones III is the U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a Republican nominated by George W. Bush and confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and he presided over the trial. His ruling (pdf) is fascinating, and long (over a hundred pages). I suggest you skim it in its entirety — I did.

I'd like to highlight the conclusion of his ruling, both for its cogency and for its acerbity (I was going to use "piquancy", but The American Heritage Dictionary tells me that such use is archaic, and I'm anything if not with the times):
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

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.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
(Underlined citations in original; emphasis added.)

I've only read the beginning of On Pandas and People; its introduction, at least, allows that microevolution and divine creation are consistent. Indeed, microevolution has been observed and measured, and most IDers/Creationists endorse it, but they reject macroevolutionary theories of the origins of life. When Jones describes "evolutionary theory", however, he means it in the same sense as the IDers do (a la his Finding of Facts): the idea that modern species evolved over millions of years from nothing. What is elucidated in the ruling is not whether this claim is consistent with ID (and the Court is careful to make no ruling on the truth of the claims of the Theory of Intelligent Design proper), but that ID proponents misinterpret and misidentify scientific disagreements about the details of evolution's mechanisms as evidence against evolution, and moreover they misinterpret and misidentify evidence against evolution as evidence for intelligent design.

Jones goes on, getting more and more astringent as he approaches the end:
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. 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.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions. Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

Jones' ruling is, of course, a win for the Left and a major rebuff for the Right. But let's be careful before partying too hard. Liberals ought to support teaching Intelligent Design in schools. Students should read (excerpts from) this ruling, and learn about the history of the Evolution/Creation controversy in the U.S. They should have assignments that involve critically examining claims and evidence, comparing various versions of so-called evolutionism with various versions of creationism, and understanding how much of the dichotomy is false. Pedagogical studies have shown how best to convince kids of evolution's power as an empirical fact: respect them enough to teach them everything. When you hold something back, the kids know it, like refusing to discuss birth control or homosexuality in a sex-ed class.

The Dover ID Policy was a bad one, supported by religion and poorly instigated, and "Defendants are permanently enjoined from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District." But I hope that high-school biology teachers don't interpret this and other rulings as totally barring mention of ID in science classrooms (indeed, in Edwards (landmark 1987 case against Creationism), the Supreme Court found that "teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction"). Of course, an already overloaded science curriculum does not need such extra material, so teachers who decide not to broach the subject in favor of other more worthwhile material are not shirking their duty. Still, a nice extra-credit assignment or option for a term paper would be such a compare-contrast exposition.

On this and other major national issues, Liberals are becoming stodgy and entrenched, giving up the role of social-change activists to the Radical Religious Right. We should be out there, empowering students to research and criticize lots of ideas (because such empowerment is a value in its own right, and incidentally those students will be more likely to decide that Conservatives' religious beliefs are wrong). As soon as IDers can claim that their policies are "for the secular purposes of improving science education and encouraging students to exercise critical thinking skills" (even though the Court found in this case that "Defendants’ previously referenced flagrant and insulting falsehoods to the Court provide sufficient and compelling evidence for us to deduce that any allegedly secular purposes that have been offered in support of the ID Policy are equally insincere.") — as soon as IDers can claim to support critical thinking and academic freedom, we have lost the moral high ground.

But it doesn't stop there. We're reduced to defending Choice by pointing to the power of precedent, when there are many precedents (e.g. Plessy) requiring reversal. There are valid and strong arguments for why precedent should be respected, but that's not what we need — instead, we must effect a radical change in the understanding of life and rights of creatures like fetuses (I have no doubt that a neonatal fetus is a feeling mammal, and a person as much as my cat is; the point isn't life per se, because I would hold a private funeral for a fetus who undergoes late-term abortion, but rather who should make decisions over whether a woman remains pregnant). We should present reasoned, impassioned arguments for the Equal Rights Amendment, for a more progressive tax system, for Medicaid and Social Security overhauls (resulting in more tax-funded healthcare for everyone, especially members of the lower classes, and in a standard retirement age closer to 80) and for a new understanding of environmental rights. And don't get me started on foreign policy, where the "conservatives" and "liberals" switch sides every few administrations.

Instead, the disquieted left is putting much of its formidable creativity into ultimately unhelpful (if not down-right hindering) negative personal attacks.

At least we can still advocate for gender-neutral marriage.


Target said...

Hmmm..... I have to disagree with you on a number of points. I'm not sure that ID shouldn't be dealth with, but it shouldn't be dealt with in science class. It should be talked about and discussed, but in sociology and religion classes, not in science. It isn't science and to argue that any crackpot theory that people come up with has to be respected is insane. If I started arguing that we had to teach about gods turning themselves into animals to have sex I'd be laughed right out of town. But it's there in the greek myths. There's no way to disprove it. It's an alternate theory. Let's teach it in schools. NO!! It's insane. We're not obliged to waste value teaching time dealing with insanity.

As for raising the retirement age to 80, I'm not certain that's good or even advantageous in any way. I also have questions about abortion, but that's a whole nother can of worms.

Theo said...

Well, no, 80 is too high for now. But it won't be fifty years from now, at least not for people with access to resources and medical care.

I certainly don't want to raise the retirement age for people who work low-paying or extremely physically demanding jobs (steel workers and the like). But I ain't retirin' until I sure I got enough money to live comfortably forever without social security and the like. Besides, who'd want to not have anything to do?