Monday, September 26, 2005

New CREVO Trial Opens Today in Harrisburg, PA

Today marks the start of the latest CREVO court trial in the USA. At stake is the right of high School students in PA (and if the school board wins, other schools throughout the US) to be taught that there are problems with Darwinism and that Intelligent Design may be taught as a scientific alternative. I present you with a brief summary of the events leading up to the trial, to be followed by comments and analysis.

BACKGROUND: WHAT STARTED ALL THE FUSS?

On Oct 18, 2004, the Dover School Board (a community of 20,000+ in a largely Amish region located about 20 miles south of Harrisburg) passed a resolution (6-3) stating the following:

"Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design".

Evidently, the ACLU took issue with the following statement that the Dover School Board approved for presentation to all 9th grade biology students at Dover High School:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments."

So it appears that the ACLU got several people to join in a lawsuit to challenge what they clearly perceive to be a most obnoxious resolution and statement - and squash it before other school boards got any similar ideas. You can read the text of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU here.

WHAT THE LAWSUIT SAYS

The 25-page complaint filed by the ACLU on December 14, 2005, contends in part that:

1) Intelligent Design (ID) is a non-scientific argument or assertion
2) ID is an "inherently religious argument...that falls outside the realm of science"
3) ID is "consonant with Christian and theistic convictions"
4) The purpose in passing the October 18, 2005 resolution was "similarly religious"
5) That the "effect" of the October 18th resolution "will be to compel public school science teachers to present to their students in biology class information that is inherently religious, not scientific, in nature".

As a remedy, the plaintiffs in the matter "seek a declaration that the defendants' intelligent design policy violates the Constitution of the United States AND the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They also seek an injunction to prevent such violations" [from recurring].

The ACLU has also gone to the trouble of posting comments from several leading protagonists opposing ID on their web site. Included on the ACLU website are statements from (see link in previous sentence) Dr. Barbara Forrest, Dr. John F. Haught, Dr. Kenneth R. Miller, Dr. Robert T. Pennock, Dr. Jeffrey Shallit, Dr. Brian Alters, and Dr. Kevin Padian. Statements from each of these individuals are in support of the ACLU lawsuit, and generally comment on the unsuitability of the ID arguments in our science classrooms.

WHO WILL TESTIFY?

In any trial like this, it's nice to know in advance who the likely expert witnesses will be. The list of plaintiff experts include (as listed on the ACLU site mentioned above):


1. Ken Miller ( 09/26/05)
2. Brian Alters
3. Barbara Forrest
4. John Haught
5. Kevin Padian
6. Rob Pennock
7. Jeffrey Shallit

The list of experts for the defendents include:

1. Michael Behe
2. John A. Campbell
3. Dick Carpenter
4. William Dembski
5. Steve Fuller
6. Stephen C. Meyer
7. Scott Minnich
8. Warren Nord

There seems to be some question about whether Campbell, Dembski, and Meyer will testify.

PRE-TRIAL QUOTES

Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania, said the plaintiffs would call six experts in history, theology, philosophy of science and science to show that no matter the perspective, "intelligent design is not science because it does not meet the ground rules of science, is not based on natural explanations, is not testable."

"This is an attempt by the A.C.L.U. to really intimidate this small-town school board," said Mr. Richard Thompson, a former Michigan prosecutor who will defend the Dover board at the trial, "because the theory of intelligent design is starting to gain some resonance among school boards across the country."

(A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit - NY Times 09/26/05)

"Where are all the protesters?" a reporter from The Wall Street Journal asked. "I'm so disappointed."

OPENING TRIAL QUOTES

"There is no controversy in the scientific community about the strenth of evolution"
- Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton LLP (Plaintiffs attorney)

(I beg to differ with Rothchild's opening remark. Contrary to what he says, there is indeed quite a bit of controversy in the scientific community about the strength of evolution. To say there is 'no controversy' is like saying that all Americans support the war in Iraq. It just ain't so. In fact, I'd wager that there is no group anywhere that has such unanimity of opinion. So, this comment was clearly designed to paint a picture of unity - but unfortunately - it's a lie. - KW)

MY ANALYSIS OUT OF THE GATE

Will Intelligent Design get a fair hearing? It doesn't look that way. The ACLU is conjuring up the same old out-worn notion that ID is inherently a religious idea, creationism re-fitted in a new set of clothes. To say that ID is "inherently religious" is an ill-conceived and contrived tactic designed to relegate ID to the realm 'religion', where it cannot compete in the scientific arena. The lawsuit even says that the idea of ID is "consonant with Christian and Theistic convictions".

So what? A lot of ideas are "consonant" or "consistent" with other things, but that doesn't seem to be a problem. Intelligent Design is consistent with architecture, and many architects draw inspiration for their designs from their religious faith. I don't see the ACLU calling architecture an inherently 'religious' concept and filing a lawsuit to prevent teaching architecture in our high schools. Darwinism is largely consistent with many people who believe (with what has often been noted as 'religious' conviction...) that there is no God. So why not bar Evolution from our schools? Religion is and should not be on center stage here folks: good SCIENCE should be. It matters not where an idea comes from or what it may be consistent with - what matters is how well the idea stands on its own two feet.

But that's not the card the ACLU appears to be playing. From the looks of things, it seems that the ACLU is taking the approach that Intelligent Design was not mandated by the Dover School Board with a "secular intent". It's clear that the ACLU is confident that it can establish this, and therefore win their case, but it's hardly the criteria that should be used to determine whether ID is worthy of being presented in our school science classes.

And, it's worth noting that the ACLU didn't call on Dr. David M. Raup who noted many years ago that "I think it can be argued that whether a body of reasoning is scientific or not should be decided independantly of the question of whether the adherents are committed to one ideology or another. In my view, a few of the arguments used by the creationists are "scientific" in the sense that they use the basic methods of testing hypotheses normally considered to be scientific. This does not mean, of course, that the conclusions are correct". (Godfrey, 1983, p. 159)

Well said indeed. So, IS there any 'scientific' evidence for creation? Surely there are many competent sources which claim there is. Of course there are. One such source has been published for years, but few seem to be taking notice.

Wendell R. Bird thoroughly addressed this issue in his prodigious research way back in 1987, noting that at least seven different lines of distinct evidence for systematic abrupt appearance (i.e., creation by ID) exist that are scientific, and not 'religious'. Those lines of evidence include Paleontology (systematic abrupt appearance), Paleontology (systematic gaps), Comparative Morphology (systematic similarity and stasis), Information Content, Probability (Natural laws of statistics), Genetics (Natural law of limited change), and Comparative Discontinuity. (Bird, 1987, ch. 2)

None of these arguments rely on chapter and verse from any relgious text. And, those notions are not all put forward by just ID advocates, either.

Besides, I take heart in seeing that FINALLY some folks are agreeing with my contention that if ID is so deficient, let's allow the kids to compare it to evolution and see for themselves what the fuss is all about. As Washington Post writer and devout Darwinian Jay Matthews opined recently (and I agree): "I think critiques of modern biology... could be one of the best things to happen to high school science." True, there would need to be some caveats put in place. Like, let's do away with the name calling, and present both theories with respect. ID is deserving of the respect of the scientific community. Ridiculous accusations that it is "consonant" with religion should be seen for the smokescreen that they are, and ad hominem attacks should be dispensed with immediately.

Let's see what transpires in court during the coming week.


TODAY'S TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS

Kenneth Miller took the stand today and offered testimony that intelligent design is untestable, and is therefore unscientific. Yet he later admitted that at least one ID concept WAS scientifically testable. He commented that the concept of Irreducible Complexity, made famous by Michael Behe in his book Darwin's Black Box, was flawed, since there are an infinite number of possible alternatives, not just the notion that life was created by an intelligent designer. You can read Miller's entire expert statement, submitted on March 30, 2005, here.

TRIAL UPDATES and COMMENTARY

The ACLU blog provides frequent updates about what's going on inside the trial

You can also read the blo-by-blow trial coverage, analysis, and comments provided by the Discovery Institute.


PRE-TRIAL COMMENTARY

Design on Trial in Dover, PA - NCSE Report by Nicholas J. Matzke. This piece covers some of the pre-trial actions including some rather revealing deposition excerpts from Dover School Board members.
Trial Puts Dover Debate in national spotlight - York Dispatch, 09/23/05
'intelligent design' supporters to state their case in court, by Bill Toland, Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, 09/25/05


NEWS COVERAGE and OP-EDS

God vs. Science in schools Debated in US Court - Reuters, 09/26/05
New Analyses Bolster Central Tenets of Evolution Theory -
Pa. Trial Will Ask Whether 'Alternatives' Can Pass as Science, by Rick Weiss and David Brown, WA Post, 09/26/05
Professor Says Dover 'misleads' students - [Harrisburg] Patriot News, 09/26/05
US Schools' evolution teaching goes on trial - The Guardian (Great Britain) - 09/26/05


COMMENTS FROM OTHER BLOGGERS

PRO Evolution:

Red State Rabble (RSR) says: RSR wonders, how we are to teach children that telling the truth is important when those who claim to have a special relationship with the God of the Ten Commandments -- who are the elected officials charged with running the schools -- refuse to do something so simple, so basic, as to tell the truth.

PRO Intelligent Design:

The Lone Ranger. Do you know how the Declaration of Independence was written? It seems that Thomas Jefferson's youngest son spilled a box of letter blocks out on the floor and there it was -- perfectly spelled and punctuated -- without a single block out of alignment.

Of course, rational people would never believe that story. But those same rational people DO believe something as infinitely complex as the universe could randomly come together after a Big Bang, perfect down to the tiniest subatomic particle, without any intelligent intervention.


REFERENCES:

Bird, Wendell Raleigh. Origin of Species Revisited. Philosophical Library (Vol. I).
Godfrey, Laurie R. Scientists Confront Creationism. W.W. Norton, 1983.
Goodstein, Laurie. A Web of Faith, Law and Science in Evolution Suit - NY Times 09/26/05
Matthews, Jay. Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Me. WA Post, April 5, 2005 and Who's Afraid of Intelligent Design?
Matzke, Nicholas J. Design on Trial in Dover, PA. NCSE website.

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