You've no doubt heard about the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania's in the Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al case, saying that advocacy for "Intelligent Design" (ID) in Pennsylvania classrooms is a violation of the Constitution's Establishment clause and must be halted immediately. But the judge in this case (John E. Jones, a new hero of mine) didn't just rule in favor of the plaintiffs; instead, he savaged the Dover School Board and the very idea that "Intelligent Design" (ID) is anything but Creationism in a new guise. The Associated Press released a set of excerpts from the decision that are worth your time, but I've just finished reading the decision and I thought I'd share some of my own favorite bits.
Regarding Of Pandas and People, one of the guiding texts of ID, Jones wrote the following ("FTE" is the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, the publisher of the book):
As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were completed prior to and some after the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation (creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content, which directly refutes FTE’s argument that by merely disregarding the words “creation” and “creationism,” FTE expressly rejected creationism in Pandas.
On the question of whether or not ID is science, he wrote:
We find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science. [...] While answering this question compels us to revisit evidence that is entirely complex, if not obtuse, after a six week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the 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. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us.
Ouch. Just in case you're on tenterhooks about this one, he concludes that it isn't science.
Jones picks up one of my favorite points against ID/creationism when he says, "ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed." This leads into a discussion of the ID concept of "irreducible complexity," which Jones proceeds to demolish through reference to three specific cases: "(1) the bacterial flagellum; (2) the blood-clotting cascade; and (3) the immune system." I won't include the details of these thorough and highly amusing demolition efforts, but they're well worth your time to read (pages 76-78).
Moving on to other arguments for ID, Jones writes the following ("Professor Behe" is Michael J. Behe, one of the expert witnesses called by the defense):
Indeed, the assertion that design of biological systems can be inferred from the “purposeful arrangement of parts” is based upon an analogy to human design. Because we are able to recognize design of artifacts and objects, according to Professor Behe, that same reasoning can be employed to determine biological design. (18:116-17, 23:50 (Behe)). Professor Behe testified that the strength of the analogy depends upon the degree of similarity entailed in the two propositions; however, if this is the test, ID completely fails.
The judge goes on to explain, cogently and convincingly, why this proposition fails so completely, and then he relays the witness's reply: "Professor Behe’s only response to these seemingly insurmountable points of disanalogy was that the inference still works in science fiction movies." Again: ouch. The contempt is almost palpable. Maybe it's a bit harsh, though; after all, the appeal to science fiction does make perfect sense for ID proponents, since they're essentially trying to pass off a work of fiction as science. Jones completes his disembowelment of this element of the ID argument as follows:
It is readily apparent to the Court that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed.This inference to design based upon the appearance of a “purposeful arrangement of parts” is a completely subjective proposition, determined in the eye of each beholder and his/her viewpoint concerning the complexity of a system. Although both Professors Behe and Minnich assert that there is a quantitative aspect to the inference, on cross-examination they admitted that there is no quantitative criteria for determining the degree of complexity or number of parts that bespeak design, rather than a natural process.
One thing that becomes eminently clear from reading the decision is that this entire issue was primarily the result of a few religious zealots on the Dover School Board (primarily Alan Bonsell and William Buckingham) who decided to try to ram their beliefs down the throats of Pennsylvania school children. The judge has utter contempt for these pinheads, whose testimony he says "was marked by selective memories and outright lies under oath." Some excerpts about these contemptible cretins and their fellow travellers:
It is notable, and in fact incredible that Bonsell disclaimed any interest in creationism during his testimony, despite the admission by his counsel in Defendants’ opening statement that Bonsell had such an interest. Simply put, Bonsell repeatedly failed to testify in a truthful manner about this and other subjects.
Board members and teachers opposing the curriculum change and
its implementation have been confronted directly. First, Casey Brown testified that following her opposition to the curriculum change on October 18, 2004, Buckingham called her an atheist and Bonsell told her that she would go to hell. Second, Angie Yingling was coerced into voting for the curriculum change by Board members accusing her of being an atheist and un-Christian.
Although Buckingham, Bonsell, and other defense witnesses denied the reports in the news media and contradicted the great weight of the evidence about what transpired at the June 2004 Board meetings, the record reflects that these witnesses either testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath on several occasions, and are accordingly not credible on these points.
The inescapable truth is that both Bonsell and Buckingham lied at their January 3, 2005 depositions about their knowledge of the source of the donation for Pandas, which likely contributed to Plaintiffs’ election not to seek a temporary restraining order at that time based upon a conflicting and incomplete factual record. This mendacity was a clear and deliberate attempt to hide the source of the donations by the Board President and the Chair of the Curriculum Committee to further ensure that Dover students received a creationist alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution. We are accordingly presented with further compelling evidence that Bonsell and Buckingham sought to conceal the blatantly religious purpose behind the ID Policy.
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.
Accordingly, we find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause.
And in his conclusion:
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.
Wouldn't it be nice to see perjury charges against these dolts?
Bonsell and Buckingham weren't the only buffoons on the board, though. Jones notes the following about one other Board member, Jane Cleaver (no, not June, though you might be tempted to think so after you read this):
Cleaver voted for the curriculum change despite the teachers’ objections, based upon assurances from Bonsell. Cleaver admittedly knew nothing about ID, including the words comprising the phrase, as she consistently referred to ID as “intelligence design” throughout her testimony.
Hahahahahaha! Stop, my sides, you're killing me! Jones sums up the aggressive ignorance of the Board's ID proponents as follows:
Despite this collective failure to understand the concept of ID, which six Board members nonetheless felt was appropriate to add to ninth grade biology class to improve science education, the Board never heard from any person or organization with scientific expertise about the curriculum change, save for consistent but unwelcome advices from the District’s science teachers who uniformly opposed the change.
So these nimrods voted for a curriculum change of this magnitude and level of controversy even though they didn't understand what ID was, and in at least one case didn't even understand what the letters stood for. Wow.
The judge sums up his feelings about the case with the following volley, which was included in the AP story but is worth reproducing here:
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.
I think "breathtaking inanity" says it all. Bravo to Judge Jones for going to the time and effort not just to decide this case on its merits, but to give a thorough explanation (which can be used in future cases, or vacation arguments with Fox News-watching relatives) of why ID manifestly is not science and why it has no place in a science curriculum.
I encourage you to read the full decision (pdf) for yourself. Yes, it's true that it's 139 pages long, but they're double-spaced, the type is big, and it's more gripping than any novel I've read lately. If nothing else, it's restored my confidence in the possibility of the victory of sanity over irrationality.
ADDENDUM: Judge Jones is a Republican who was the co-chairman of Governor-elect Tom Ridge's transition team, and who was appointed to the US District Court by none other than George W. Bush. He's also a Lutheran. It's often tempting for those of us on the left to assume that the right is a monolith--especially after we spend a little time listening to the ravings of dangerous blowhards like Sean Hannity or Michael Savage and hearing the mind-numbing, malevolent ignorance of the brownshirts who make up their audiences--but things like this are welcome proof that there are still people on the right who put principles and truth before ideology.