. . . in which I defend the judiciary against barbaric assault


I’ll make this quick (back to the grindstone, you know).

In my immediately previous post I make a minor case that advocacy of intelligent design is the less preferable alternative to understanding evolution, for moral reasons. Advocacy of intelligent design has so farproven incapable of making a case in a straightforward and honest fashion. All cases for intelligent design rest in large part, or completely, in distortions of science and history.  What originall caught my eye and my ire was the mischaracterization of the recent decision in the Pennsylvania intelligent design case.

Dr. P. Z. Myers from the University of Minnesota – Morris made that point in his response (at Pharyngula) to Evangelical Outpost. Here is Myers:

Finally, ID is stealth creationism—the Dover decision settled that by looking into the history of the idea. Truth is a pretty good reason to make an argument, I think.

Joe Carter’s response goes a bit beyond the pale, I think. Rather than defend intelligent design as science, Carter tries to denigrate the legal decision in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District — unjustifiably in my view, and at the cost of taking potshots at our judicial system and a good judge. Joe said:

Has PZ even read the Dover decision? It is a legal and philosophical embarrassment. Judge Jones’ conclusion was that we must not judge science based on facts or evidence but on the motives of the people who propose or challenge ideas. Because the advocates of ID are religious and may have a religious motive, their ideas must be kept out of the classroom. (By this standard we should reject the theory of gravity because it was proposed by the “creationist” Sir Issac Newton.)

Like the Discovery Institute, I oppose requiring that ID be taught in public schools. But the twisted logic of the Dover decision was harmful not just to ID, but to science and critical thinking in general.

Let me put on my lawyer hat for a moment. Judge John E. Jones wrote a masterful decision, a model for law students on how to decide a case based on the evidence presented. He was careful with the science as well as the law — it is a virtually air-tight decision, with no holes in reasoning, and little or nothing that anyone could possibly appeal the case on, successfully (the case was not appealed). It’s difficult for courts to deal with science issues where there are gray lines in the science, or where there are any number of studies on either side of an issue.

Go read the decision. Were I to criticize it at all, I would say that Judge Jones pulled punches and dealt too lightly with the defense, the intelligent design side. The case featured clear examples of witnesses for the defense lying on the witness stand. Judge Jones notes this well, but politely — so politely that it appears many missed it, including Joe Carter.

The science issues were not close. Unlike a radiation injury case, to pick one field I am painfully familiar with, there are not studies of equal weight on both sides, nor are there studies of equal number. In one dramatic demonstration, the plaintiffs’ attorneys introduced as exhibits a stack of more than 50 studies to contradict a key point of the ID claim to scientific veracity, where MichaelBehe had argued there were no such studies at all. Under oath, Dr. Behe admitted that the studies exist (one wishes that creationists didn’t have to be put under oath to get such admissions out of them, but there is a long history in this regard, going back at least to the Arkansas trial in 1981).

And in the end, Jones did not decide the case on the basis of the “motives” of the people who advocate intelligent design alone — although those motives were an appropriate ground to base the decision alone, and they were at issue in the case. It is illegal for governments to pick a religion, to advocate one religion over another, or to advocate against beliefs for religious motives. There are two issues in these anti-evolution court cases. The first and most important issue is whether there is science behind whatever idea the anti-evolutionists want to insert into the science curriculum; no matter whether it’s a religious belief, if there is science to back it up, it’s good to go in the curriculum. But if there is no science, then the religious motives of the advocates are a deciding issue. Mere scientific error isn’t illegal; pushing error for religious reasons is illegal.

Judge Jones accurately and carefully determined there is no science available from ID advocates that can go into a public school science class. He also determined, because the defense asked for such a determination, that the motives of the school board were tainted by their desire to impose their faith on others through the schools, or at least, in the curriculum.

The case is a model. It’s a cheap shot to call the decision “a legal and philosophical embarrassment.” The decision is instead a model of law. It’s a model of argument. It’s a model of legal philosophy. It is a model of integrity of our judicial system.
Prior to the decision, advocates of intelligent design had virtually clapped their hands in glee that a Bush-appointed, practicing Christian judge would decide the case. Did I mention that Judge Jones is an active Boy Scout leader, too? Once his decision was issued, he was assaulted in print as “activist,” “liberal,” and as you can see from Joe Carter’s words, as one who had written an “embarrassing decision.”

What is embarrassing? It is embarrassing that people who claim to be acting for a faith that values honesty and truth would attack the judiciary, a specific judge, and a good decision, in such a fashion.

Go read the decision. It’s gospel, in the secular meaning of that word as “good news;” it should be gospel to anyone who wishes to know where to drive the survey stakes around the property known as truth, science, or fact.

8 Responses to . . . in which I defend the judiciary against barbaric assault

  1. […] Joe Carter pens the very well-read Evangelical Outpost. He attends church regularly, I gather, considers himself a good Christian, and for all I know studies the Bible regularly and tithes. But he’s also an advocate of intelligent design. In 2007 he provoked a bit of a storm claiming that scientists were making the case for ID by advocating evolution (no, it doesn’t make much more sense in the longer argument). (See “The moral imperative against intelligent design,” and “. . . in which I defend the judiciary against barbaric assault.“) […]

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  2. edarrell says:

    Thank you for the note, Zeteo Eurisko. It should be fixed now.

    Like

  3. Todd says:

    As someone who filters through a lot of creationist obfuscation, I can tell yoiu, Adam, that nobody will believe you until you make your case.

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  4. Adam says:

    As a lawyer and someone who writes statements of decision for a living, I can tell you, Mr. Carter, you’re wrong about Kitzmiller.

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  5. There is a “v” on the end of your link to the Kitzmiller PDF that must be removed to un-break the link.

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  6. Blake Stacey says:

    All cases for intelligent design rest in large part, or completely, in distortions of science and history.

    When attempting to defend an untruth, some amount of lying is only natural — not only natural, in fact, but necessary.

    In one dramatic demonstration, the plaintiffs’ attorneys introduced as exhibits a stack of more than 50 studies to contradict a key point of the ID claim to scientific veracity, where MichaelBehe had argued there were no such studies at all.

    Quite the Perry Mason moment, that was!

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  7. Georgiana says:

    Huzzah, huzzah.

    I read much of the decision, a well-written, closely reasoned and cogent piece. As a layreader, even I could tell how tightly argued the decision was. The judge followed a fine tradition of argument, careful thought and the law. It was ultimately a conservative decision (in the non-political sense of the word). But what frightens me is the number of clearly well-educated people who, as another commenter noted, find merit only in opinions that support theirs.

    Given the vast body intellectual discourse produced just by believing Christians*over the last two millennia, not to mention their founding of European and American universities, it is unfathomable to me that so many Christians today demand ignorance in order to sustain their beliefs. It is a betrayal of so many things, starting with the faith they profess.

    (*As this is the religion with the most vocal supporters of anti-intellectualism and creationism.)

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  8. Carpus says:

    Bravo.

    I read a good chunk of the decision and agree completely. I hate this attitude where if you think he agrees with you, he’s a good guy, but as soon as he doesn’t, he’s the devil. How can you take these people seriously? They are so clearly incapable of rational thought! Their beliefs are not based on logic but on pure, unassailable beilef, and I can’t stand that kind of intellectual dishonesty.

    The shame is that this kind of ‘thinking’ is so common that we do have to take it seriously.

    Like

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