Waterloo in Dover

Just not the kind of Waterloo Intelligent Design (ID) Proponent William Dembski was hoping for. It appears that the judge in the Dover case has ruled rather broadly and this bodes ill for ID in general. This in turn, in my view, bodes ill for creationists of all stripes.

The problem for creationists in general is that ID represents one of the last stages of evolution of creationist “theory” before it goes extinct. ID is creationism with all the references to God removed and tarted up in sophisticated language of mathematics and biology to make it look more like science than any previous incarnation of creationism. When you look at the history of science education and evolutionary theory in the U.S. the path for the creationists has not been a very good one. They have gone from a position of complete dominance and legal superiority (teaching evolution and evolutionary theory was illegal in some states) to the being slowly replaced by evolutionary theory, to being declared illegal, and now we have this sterile and stripped down version of creatinism that can’t even mention God.

One of the problems for ID advocates is that the judge asked the following question in his decision (you can find the decision here–it is a pretty good sized pdf so I’d recommend downloading it first),

We must now ascertain whether the ID Policy “in fact conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval” of religion, with the reasonable, objective observer being the hypothetical construct to consider this issue.

The answer can’t be anything other than, “Yes, ID conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval of religion.” The reason is simple. If one were to look at ID writings on the topic they would eventually come across William Dembski’s Law of Conservation of Information, as well as Dembski’s paper on Searching Large Spaces. These two things point to the impossibility of certain biological features arising naturally. This leaves only a supernatural explanation, which leaves the only explanation being some sort of deity. Of course, Dembski did not testify at the trial an his arguments were not part of the trial. However, the judge did look at other evidence that also lead to the same conclusion. Specifically the judge traced, in detail, the history of creationism and ID as I did above (briefly). Here is part of the decision that is relevant,

Next, and as stated, religious opponents of evolution began cloaking religious beliefs in scientific sounding language and then mandating that schools teach the resulting “creation science” or “scientific creationism” as an alternative to evolution. However, this tactic was likewise unsuccessful under the First Amendment. “Fundamentalist organizations were formed to promote the idea that the Book of Genesis was supported by scientific data. The terms ‘creation science’ and ‘scientific creationism’ have been adopted by these Fundamentalists as descriptive of their study of creation and the origins of man.”

[snip]

The court found that creation science organizations were fundamentalist religious entities that “consider[ed] the introduction of creation science into the public schools part of their ministry.” Id. at 1260. The court in McLean stated that creation science rested on a “contrived dualism” that recognized only two possible explanations for life, the scientific theory of evolution and biblical creationism, treated the two as mutually exclusive such that “one must either accept the literal interpretation of Genesis or else believe in the godless system of evolution,” and accordingly viewed any critiques of evolution as evidence that necessarily supported biblical creationism… The court concluded that creation science “is simply not science” because it depends upon “supernatural intervention,” which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

[snip]

Among other reasons, the Supreme Court in Edwards concluded that the challenged statute did not serve the legislature’s professed purposes of encouraging academic freedom and making the science curriculum more comprehensive by “teaching all of the evidence” regarding origins of life because: the state law already allowed schools to teach any scientific theory, which responded to the alleged purpose of academic freedom; and if the legislature really had intended to make science education more comprehensive, “it would have encouraged the teaching of all scientific theories about the origins of humankind” rather than permitting schools to forego teaching evolution, but mandating that schools that teach evolution must also teach creation science, an inherently religious view… The Supreme Court further held that the belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of human kind is a religious viewpoint and that the Act at issue “advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety.”

[snip]

We initially note that John Haught, a theologian who testified as an expert witness for Plaintiffs and who has written extensively on the subject of evolution and religion, succinctly explained to the Court that the argument for ID is not a new scientific argument, but is rather an old religious argument for the existence of God. He traced this argument back to at least Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, who framed the argument as a syllogism: Wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer… The syllogism described by Dr. Haught is essentially the same argument for ID as presented by defense expert witnesses Professors Behe and Minnich who employ the phrase “purposeful arrangement of parts.”

I’d say just these parts (and yes there is more…much more) are devastating to the ID proponents in this case, and in all future cases. Also Phillip Johnson’s Wedge Document/Strategy was dragged into the case, and was used as evidence against ID. The judge also uses quotes of many of the prominent proponents of the ID movement that clearly endorse a religious viewpoint, and that many in the ID movement describe ID as a religious movement. No wonder the Discovery Institute didn’t want this trial to happen. They had to know they’d lose and lose badly. The judge arrives at this conclusion,

The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates, as noted, that the systemic change from “creation” to “intelligent design” occurred sometime in 1987, after the Supreme Court’s important Edwards decision. This compelling evidence strongly supports Plaintiffs’ assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled. Importantly, the objective observer, whether adult or child, would conclude from the fact that Pandas posits a master intellect that the intelligent designer is God.

Overall, the decision is pretty brutal on the defense (the ID proponents). The judge notes that the Dover policy is misleading, inconsistent, questionable in regards to honesty, and confusing to students about the nature of science. In other words, far from teaching a legitimate controversy in a scientific field and allowing for academic freedom the policy has precisely the opposite effect.

Dr. Padian bluntly and effectively stated that in confusing students about science generally and evolution in particular, the disclaimer makes students “stupid.”

So, we have a decision that debunks the “academic freedom” argument, the “teach the controversy argument”, that “ID is science” argument, and leaves proponents of ID, creationism and their supporters with very little left to stand on.

More at the Panda’s Thumb.

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FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. LCaution says:

    Thank you for the best article on the decision that I have been able to Google (and that includes the NYT). I especially appreciate the link to the full text of the opinion.

    However, in reality, this isn’t much of a defeat for ID. CNN a short time ago produced survey results showing that 53% of Americans believe God created man as said in the Bible. 12-13% accept evolution as the only explanation. The rest either don’t know what ID is or think God and evolution are both involved.

    Given that a majority of Americans – who have, presumably, been taught only evolution in our schools – nevertheless believe in creationism, one wonders why IDers even bother – unless, of course, they won’t be happy until the U.S. is a theocratic state in which ALL of us believe in Biblical creationism (other creation myths, of course, not being valid).

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Well there are two points. The first is that since we are a nation of laws, the popular opinion doesn’t count for a whole lot without some pretty major legislation (e.g. a Constitutional Amendment would do the trick, but that might be more than is necessary). Second, I’d personally be happy with people believing that God worked via evolution to produce what we see around us today. And thanks for the kind comments on my post.

  3. John Burgess says:

    I’d note that some are more than happy to keep things confused about just what ID is or isn’t. As the decision–and, for that matter, even the Dover School District–noted, this is not about the origin of life, but about how that life, once started, developed.

    I suspect that if the polling questions were broken out to distinguish between the two concepts, there’s be markedly different result. Evolution doesn’t forbid a Creator, after all, it only forbids “special creation”.

    Most evolutionists are not willing to say what the origin of the universe was, although they can describe things that happened nanoseconds afterwards. Nor are they willing to say, categorically, that the origin of life was “exactly this”. Perhaps a majority of evolutionists don’t believe that a Creator was necessary to start life rolling, but not all of them do. But that question is really only the can kicked down the road from the origin of the universe, and there, they do not choose to tread.

    Not only did the Dover School Board get spanked in not being re-elected, but it must really smart when they’re called liars from the bench.

  4. floyd says:

    what class is it really relevent to teach evolution,not really biology.how about history?nah! hey, i know!since it is science, how about political science? yeah, that’s it , political science.

  5. Bithead says:

    Nonsense.

    What the court has said in reality is that there are no higher beings than Humans. Nobody more powerful, nobody smarter. I think even atheists have problems with that concept, given the frailties we all know about mankind.

    The concept of ID is simply that someone more powerful than we exists, that they created the world and the things on it.

    Regardless of whom it is you consider that being to be, and what nature you consider them to be.

    As to the implication of that being, being God… well, was it Small, or Short or something like that… “any technology sufficiently advanced, will be perceived as being Godlike” Or somthing. And that was something of a byword in in the scientific. the court has apparently rejected this, as well.

    The bottom line here, is that the judge has stepped into the arena of ruling on the logically impossible, to say nothing of stepping outside his realm. Can he honestly say he understands what constitutes Science better than scientists, who also happen to belive in God?

    I can’t imagine this being the final word on the matter. I would also be very interested indeed on this judge’s background, given what I see in the transcripts.

  6. Anderson says:

    Bithead, could you please indicate the portions of the judge’s opinion where he says what you say he says?

    Or is that too “reality-based”?

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    What the court has said in reality is that there are no higher beings than Humans.

    Really, read the decision and provide even a single quote that supports this assertion. I’m calling Bravo Sierra on this one.

    The concept of ID is simply that someone more powerful than we exists, that they created the world and the things on it.

    And that someone is also outside of nature–i.e. supernatural. This renders it outside the purview of science and places it in the realm of religion.

    As to the implication of that being, being God… well, was it Small, or Short or something like that… “any technology sufficiently advanced, will be perceived as being Godlike” Or somthing. And that was something of a byword in in the scientific. the court has apparently rejected this, as well.

    This is baloney if you actually read the ID literature, views, and comments. This designer isn’t merely a time travelling cell biologist, but is a being that designs the entire universe.

    The bottom line here, is that the judge has stepped into the arena of ruling on the logically impossible, to say nothing of stepping outside his realm.

    This conclusion is predicated on your false claims and hence is itself immediately suspect. Further, the judge did not rule that there is no God, but that trying to put God into a public school science curriculum is in violation of established case law. Big, big difference.

    Can he honestly say he understands what constitutes Science better than scientists, who also happen to belive in God?

    Ken Miller, a Catholic, is on the same page as the judge. So, I’d say that this is just not relevant.

    I can’t imagine this being the final word on the matter. I would also be very interested indeed on this judge’s background, given what I see in the transcripts.

    From what I’ve read Judge Jones was appointed by George W. Bush, his political patrons are Rick Santorum and Tom Ridge. Go ahead and try to paint him as a liberal activist judge, but you’ll simple be adding another data point that conservatives call judicial activism anything court outcome they don’t like.

  8. Bithead says:

    The court concluded that creation science “is simply not science” because it depends upon “supernatural intervention,” which cannot be explained by natural causes, or be proven through empirical investigation, and is therefore neither testable nor falsifiable.

    What else can be drawn from this statement, than he figures science means there is no higher power, and thereby, we are alone in the universe, and the largest power in it?

    Creation science by definition, uses scientific methods to back it’s arguments… in precisely the same way evolutionists back theirs.

    From what I’ve read Judge Jones was appointed by George W. Bush, his political patrons are Rick Santorum and Tom Ridge.

    Given the record of Republicans and court appointments of late…(See also, Stephan Breyer, as an example) I’m not sure how much credit this point is due.

    This is baloney if you actually read the ID literature, views, and comments. This designer isn’t merely a time travelling cell biologist, but is a being that designs the entire universe.

    Oh, but I HAVE in fact read them. And that runs afoul of what I said, how? I mean, does it stirke you as logical, that someone (or a group of someones) with the power to create a universe wouldn’t be able to create US, as well? Or, the reverse, for that matter…

    Look, I personally operate from the standpoint of God, (Or anyone, for that matter) making a universe would create a fairly big bang. I see no conflict, between evolution and creation. I see nothing in creation that excludes a creative inteligence being behind it’s creation. INdeed, there are many thusfar unexplained phenom in our universe which would be better understood, if we allowed for the idea of someone else having created it, as opposed to be being some random chance or another.

    I find that denying out of hand the possibility of our universe… and ourselves, having been created, isn’t very scientific.

    As a parting shot: If anyone really thinks that atheism isn’t itself a religion, fraught with many of the same faults and terrors that the other religions suffer, they need only witness what happens when you challange the basic precepts of Atheism…

    And I’m not even raising God concepts as a part of the discussion, past the idea that any being with such a power could be percived as a God.

  9. Ember says:

    Bithead

    Under our system of justice, a judge must consider a case based upon the law and the facts presented in court. When the judge said that ID was not science, he was saying that ID did not meet the definitions given by the expert witnesses. In fact one of the witnesses on the ID side clearly said that for ID to be scientific the definition of science would have to be changed and changed in such a way that atrology would be a science. You are also engaging in the kind of duality that Judge Jones rightly decried. He made it quite clear in his opinion that he was not denying that a creator existed. Although not part of the trial record, I would ask you to consider the following. The ID argument believes that there is a creator because living organisms are irreducibly complex and all irreducibly complex things are created. However the creator of those irreducibly complex living organisms is irreducibly complex and thus, under the ID theory, must have been created. Doesn’t this go on ad infinitum.

  10. floyd says:

    steve, i’ll bet if you think about it,you don’t like judges or lawyers determining what is or is not science any more than i do. floyd

  11. floyd says:

    what nation is not a “nation of laws”? anarchadia?what is the origin of that phrase?

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    What else can be drawn from this statement, than he figures science means there is no higher power, and thereby, we are alone in the universe, and the largest power in it?

    Not true, what it means is that the question of whether or not there is a higher power is outside the purview of science. Science can’t answer that question even if “it” tried. So concluding that this implies that there is no higher power is logically flawed.

    Creation science by definition, uses scientific methods to back it’s arguments… in precisely the same way evolutionists back theirs.

    No. Scientists use the scientific method to establish the (conditional) veracity of a hypothesis. If the results are that another hypothesis is better, then the current hypothesis is replaced. Creation “scientists” by contrast have a predetermined conclusion and the data is made to fit that conclusion. That is merely apologetics, not science.

    Oh, but I HAVE in fact read them. And that runs afoul of what I said, how? I mean, does it stirke you as logical, that someone (or a group of someones) with the power to create a universe wouldn’t be able to create US, as well? Or, the reverse, for that matter…

    Sure, I grant everything you have written. However, this is precisely why it is NOT science. If you have such a being then the “God Hypothesis” cannot be out performed by any natural hypothesis. Hence gravity is the result of God. Your heart beats because God wills it. Your car works because God has willed it to work. No amount of evidence can beat this hypothesis.

    Look, I personally operate from the standpoint of God, (Or anyone, for that matter) making a universe would create a fairly big bang. I see no conflict, between evolution and creation. I see nothing in creation that excludes a creative inteligence being behind it’s creation. INdeed, there are many thusfar unexplained phenom in our universe which would be better understood, if we allowed for the idea of someone else having created it, as opposed to be being some random chance or another.

    Not to be rude, but this is why my ancestors believed in the God Thor. They couldn’t explain lightening so they created a being that was responsible for it.

    It would be interesting to go back over the last 50 years and try to catalogue some of the historical “unexplained phenomenon” and see if science how many science has subsequently explained.

    I find that denying out of hand the possibility of our universe… and ourselves, having been created, isn’t very scientific.

    Again, nobody has done that. All that Judge Jones has done is say the following:

    1. ID is not science since it allows for the supernatural which is a “science stopper”.
    2. ID is religious in nature and intent.
    3. Based on 2, it is unconstitutional to teach ID in public school science curricula.

    There is nothing preventing IDists from rolling up their sleeves and getting busy with science as they interpret it. Ironically in the last 19 years (ID first popped up in modern times in 1987) not a single bit of science based on ID has been done. Kinda ironic for a scientific endeavor…no?

  13. Ember says:

    Floyd

    Judge Jones did not define science. Any defintion was given by the scientific expert witnesses in this case. His conclusion was based on the definition given by experts in science who were crossexamined, ID does not meet that definition. In fact, the court transcript shows that the defense expert witness acknowledged that ID doesn’t meet the definition of science.

  14. floyd says:

    when you’re a hammer,every problem is a nail. the study of psychology[mind science]continues with no hard evidence that the mind even exists scientifically. the american scientific community has degenerated to the point of spending most of it’s inquiry in statistical analysis and calling it science.that’s a dandy idea,with as much credibility as a feather being macaronic.school time could be better spent teaching the scientific method itself instead of a secular religion with the trappings of science[evolution]without apparent practical application.

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    Floyd,

    The scientific method does not include the supernatural. I believe this. Many philosophers of science believe this, almost all scientists believe this, and the court went with this view as well. I don’t see what you are objecting about other than reasonable people have defined science to be something you don’t like. Is that a reasonable summation of your complaint?

  16. floyd says:

    the supernatural is irrelevant to my point.in addition to the two examples sited above, philosophy is not science. “philosophy of science” is just another pretentious feather declaring itself to be macaroni.what i am saying is that every educational subject is too broad to be covered comprehensively in the time allotted, so choices have to be made.as for science, there is no legitiment place in primary or secondary education for teaching EV or ID, since the time should be spent on more important, practically applicable, matters.we are losing a race with the rest of the world in science and technology,in part, because of these poor choices.

  17. Steve Verdon says:

    Floyd,

    Nothing in biology makes any sense save in terms of evolutionary theory. However, evolutionary theory, as taught in mose public schools, is not that rigorous. It would require too much of the students.

  18. floyd says:

    pure unadulterated BS and you know it.so you can’t practice medicine unless you are an evolutionist? is the hope to educate or indoctrinate? if the goal is educate,then teach biological processes first and save evolutionary theory for post-secondary[more rigorous]education.have you read “an origin of specious”?[sic]

  19. Steve Verdon says:

    pure unadulterated BS and you know it.so you can’t practice medicine unless you are an evolutionist?

    That is not what I said. Sure you could probably be a decent family practice doctor or a OB/GYN. However, in terms of cutting edge medical research evolutionary theory, genetics, and such fields are very much involved.

    is the hope to educate or indoctrinate? if the goal is educate,then teach biological processes first and save evolutionary theory for post-secondary[more rigorous]education.have you read “an origin of specious”?[sic]

    Considering that science considers all answers to be conditionally true (unlike religion which considers some answers to be true no matter the evidence–e.g. dogma), call it indoctrination is just goofy.

  20. floyd says:

    indoctrination would seem a little GOOFY,except for the abundance of MICKEY MOUSE science out there.that is according to that great scientific philosopher, PLUTO [LOL]. MERRY CHRISTMAS and keep up the good work…..NOW how DO those reindeer fly anyway? i’m thinking a genetic anomaly causing excess methane prduction, whadaya think?