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.