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Pennock on Dover; future of ID!

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  • Robert Baty
    ... Robert T. Pennock is professor of philosophy, computer science and engineering, and ecology, evolutionary biology and behavior at Michigan State University
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2006


      Pennock's Dover response

      The battle to get intelligent design into school books was lost in Dover, and it is time for proponents to lay down their swords.

      By Robert T. Pennock
      (March 6, 2006)

      Creationists describe their mission to overturn evolution in military language, calling it the fundamental dispute of the culture wars. We recently saw the resolution of one of the most significant battles in this war: the end of the Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District trial in Pennsylvania.

      This was the first case dealing with creationist attempts to introduce intelligent design into public schools. The Thomas More Law Center, which defended the school board���s ID policy, calls itself ���the sword and shield for people of faith.��� The ID movement itself, led by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, wields a different but equally sharp metaphor ��� that of ID as a wedge to split the materialist heart of modern science.

      Creationists had been spoiling for this fight since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against so-called ���creation science��� in the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard case. The ID ���Wedge Strategy��� was the brainchild of law professor Philip Johnson, who convinced young Earth, old Earth and other creationists to call a truce in their internal battles and to unite against their common enemy.

      The important agreement is that God ��� not evolution ��� created the world. They could save questions about the age of the Earth for after they got the generic design view into the schools. For 15 years they had been sharpening their arguments, skirmishing now and then, and preparing for such an epic showdown.

      They were even cocky. ID leader William Dembski publicly wagered a bottle of single-malt scotch that should it ever go to trial whether ID could be taught in the public school science classes that it would pass all constitutional hurdles. Now it was time.

      For years, the Discovery Institute had been pushing ID by lobbying elected officials; publishing legal guides, op-eds and videos; and offering legal advice. The Dover school board consulted both the institute and the Thomas More center before it voted for a policy to include ID. The Thomas More center had scoured the country for a school board willing to be a test case, pledging their sword and shield to defend the expected challenge. When it came in the form of a suit by 11 Dover parents, both groups were ready.

      The center���s lineup of expert witnesses listed five Discovery Institute Fellows, including Dembski and Michael Behe, their two most powerful advocates. The ID movement would have its A-team in the courtroom to present its argument in the strongest terms. Moreover, their opponents would be under oath and would be forced to answer the supposedly damning questions they otherwise purportedly dodged.

      Dembski provided Thomas More attorneys with detailed questions that would squeeze the truth from ���the Darwinists.��� He called this the ���vise strategy,��� illustrating the idea with pictures of heads ��� including that of a stuffed Darwin doll ��� being crushed in vises. To top it off, they got to argue their case before a Republican judge appointed by President George Bush. Judge John E. Jones gave them all the time they needed in the long six-week trial to fully lay out their arguments that ID is not religion but legitimate science.

      So, what happened when the creationists unsheathed their swords and their wedge in these ideal circumstances?

      They suffered a rout.

      As evidence and expert witness reports were gathered during the discovery period, it probably became clear that they could not win. Dembski and two other Discovery Institute experts abandoned the field just prior to being deposed. At an American Enterprise Institute forum during the trial, the Thomas More center publicly berated the Discovery Institute for encouraging school boards to include ID and then abandoning their defense. This may be unfair, as the institute allowed its fellows Scott Minnich and Behe ��� certainly their greatest champion ��� to testify and submitted supplemental arguments in an amicus brief.

      But the Wedge crumpled. This was not just because the court found that ID advocates on the school board had lied to disguise the religious purpose of the ID policy. The judge seriously considered the ID claim that it is not religion but real science, but he found the arguments completely unconvincing. The court found that even the defense had to admit that ID was trying to redefine science. As in earlier creationism trials, the court ruled that calling something science does not make it so.

      The judge wrote:

      > ���[We] have addressed the
      > seminal question of whether
      > ID is science. We have concluded
      > that it is not.���

      Moreover, the court found that ID, like other forms of creationism, is religion.

      > ���We conclude that the religious
      > nature of ID would be readily
      > apparent to an objective observer,
      > adult or child.���

      A long paper trail made these conclusions easy. It made no difference that they avoided using the ���G-word��� to name the agent, speaking instead of the world as designed by a master intellect or a transcendent, immaterial intelligence. Appealing to such transparent word substitutions is, as I put it in my testimony, even less persuasive than if the person who leaked a CIA agent���s identity defended himself by protesting that ���I never said Valerie Plame Wilson. I only said Ambassador Wilson���s wife.��� The court also got to read the Discovery Institute���s internal Wedge document, which omitted the linguistic fig leaf and stated their governing goal of replacing materialistic explanations with ���the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.���

      Besides the Wedge document, there were many other smoking guns. The ID textbook Of Pandas and People was shown to be a minimally reworded creation science text. Following the 1987 Supreme Court ruling, a quick edit of the manuscript draft switched out the words ���creationism��� and ���creation science��� with ���intelligent design theory,��� and ���creation scientists��� with ���intelligent design proponents��� but left definitions unchanged. ID, the judge concluded ���is creationism re-labeled.��� Nor does simply omitting the words ���intelligent design��� disguise the concept.

      ID���s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny, which we have now determined that it cannot withstand, by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard.

      What has been the response of ID proponents to this humiliating defeat? The Discovery Institute labeled Jones ���an activist judge��� with ���delusions of grandeur.��� Eagle Forum president Phyllis Schlafly called him a ���false judge��� with a ���bias for judicial activism��� who ���stuck the knife in the backs��� of the evangelical Christians who elected the president who appointed him to the bench. Judge Jones had predicted this and responded in advance in his opinion:

      > "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.

      Forgetting his discredited claim that ID is about science, not religion, Dembski reacted defiantly, saying that

      > ���this galvanizes the Christian
      > community. People I���m talking
      > to say we���re going to be raising
      > a whole lot more funds now.���

      Creationists will need the money after this defeat and not just for the bottle of scotch that Dembski now owes.

      The creationists on the board left taxpayers with more than $1 million in legal costs. Judge Jones called the inclusion of ID a decision of ���breath-taking inanity��� that resulted in an ���utter waste of monetary and personal resources.���

      Dover voters eventually recognized this, and after the trial they voted out the creationist board members who were up for reelection. The cost in money and votes ought to make other conservative school boards and politicians, who might have thought that supporting ID would help them in the polls, think twice before following the creationist call to arms again.

      Of course, we know that the ID battle cries will be heard again. Although he acknowledged that the Dover defeat was a setback, Dembski said it was not ID���s Waterloo:

      > ���We can expect agitation for
      > ID and against evolution to
      > continue. School boards and
      > state legislators may tread
      > more cautiously, but tread on
      > evolution they will ��� the culture
      > war demands it!���

      Zealots will never see reason, but let us hope that more pragmatic heads understand that it is time to lay down their swords and shields and wedges.

      The ID battle was lost at Dover. It���s time to study war no more.


      Robert T. Pennock is professor of philosophy, computer science and engineering, and ecology, evolutionary biology and behavior at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.


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