Tuesday, November 08, 2005

"Intelligent Design" Trial Wraps Up

NOTE: I started this post on Saturday (two days ago), but didn't get to finish it because the library closed early.

Closing arguments were heard Friday in Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al, also known as the "intelligent design" trial. The lawsuit was filed by a group of 11 local parents after the Dover school board announced that it was going to have biology teachers read a four-paragraph statement endorsing intelligent design before teaching evolution to ninth-graders in Dover, Pennsylvania. The statement tells students that evolution is theory, not fact; and that "intelligent design" is an alternate scientific explanation for the origin of life on earth; it also directs students to a copy of a textbook about "intelligent design" called "Of Pandas and People" in the school library.

The use of this book by the school board and its legal team as support for its position in the lawsuit has been criticized, because it's published by a Christian book publisher. In fact, the book was relatively unknown before it became a favorite among fundamentalist and evangelical Christian homeschoolers.

The Dover parents' case hinges on the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the teaching of "creationism" in public schools.

Creationism explicitly advances the idea that the Genesis creation story -- God created the world and everything in it in six days -- is the explanation for the origins of life on earth. The 1987 SCOTUS decision declared this teaching to be inherently religious, which of course means that teaching it in public schools is a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The "intelligent design" movement says that life on earth was created by an "intelligent designer" because it is "too complex" to have been the result of natural selection. ID drops any mention of the Bible or God or life on earth having been created in a week; and its proponents are evasive about who or what this "intelligent designer" is. They say it "doesn't have to be God." They say we can think of the Intelligent Designer as just some vague, invisible, powerful being: a being, obviously, with intelligence, conscious intent, the ability to make deliberate choices, and in possession of supernatural powers to bypass the laws of physics and biology. But not God.

The 11 parents suing the school board said essentially the same thing that the entire scientific world has said about this attempt to distinguish ID from creationism: Nice try, but no gold star.

Contending that intelligent design is creationism in disguise, 11 parents of Dover students sued the district and the board, claiming that the requirement is religiously motivated, thus violates the constitutional separation of church and state and breaches the Supreme Court's 1987 prohibition of teaching creationism in public schools. Creationism adheres to the Genesis account of creation in the Bible.

Emerging around 1987 and championed by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, intelligent design makes no mention of the Bible or the divine. It presents itself as a scientific theory, positing that some aspects of life, unexplained by evolution, are best attributed to an unnamed intelligent designer.

It must also have been an intelligent designer at the Discovery Institute who came up with this new "scientific theory" right after the Supreme Court said that creationism could not be taught in public schools.

Here are some of the more entertaining moments in the trial (if you like horror genre), gleaned from national and international coverage:

The school board's attorney says that "intelligent design" represents "the next big paradigm shift in scientific thinking."

Two current or former members of the school board -- Alan Bonsell and William Buckingham -- declared in sworn testimony that they believe the biblical account of creation in Genesis is literally true.

The assistant superintendent of schools in Dover testified that Bonsell had approached him when he started the job and gave him a copy of "The Myth of Separation," which argues that the Founding Fathers never had any desire to separate religion from government, and in fact wanted to create a Christian nation.

Former school board member William Buckingham said, "Nearly 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross for us. Shouldn't we have the courage to stand up for him?" but during the trial, school board members denied under oath that they had heard any religious statements at board meetings.

The 50 copies of "Of Pandas and People," which as I mentioned above is a book put out by a Christian publisher, were purchased for the school library and paid for out of church collection money, which was funneled through Alan Bonsell's father. During trial, board members denied knowledge of how the books were purchased.

Scott Minnich, professor of microbiology at the University of Idaho, who testified for the school board, claims that "intelligent design" is not discussed in peer-reviewed scientific journals because it's an unpopular minority view. Minnich insisted during the trial that ID is scientifically based, at the same time that he acknowledged that he believes the "intelligent designer" is God.

Minnich testified that intelligent design is based on science and doesn't require adherence to any religious belief. He also praised the intelligent-design statement.

Like other advocates of intelligent design, Minnich acknowledged that he believes the designer is God, but stressed that is only a personal belief, not one based on science.

So if ID is scientifically factual, and if Minnich believes the designer is God, but also wants to assure us that people don't have to believe in God to accept "intelligent design" as scientific fact, then what other candidates would Minnich suggest for the position of "Designer"? If this supernatural, intelligent, sentient being is not God, who is he? The ghost of Christmas past?

How can a grown, presumably sane human being -- and a scientist to boot -- state, in all seriousness, that it's only a statement of religious belief to say that a superhuman, self-aware, sentient being created the universe, if you call that being "God"? If you call this supernatural sentient being the Great Pumpkin, it's science; but if you call this supernatural sentient being God, then and only then it's religion?

Logic and common sense are not easy to find among these nutcases who want to pass off superstitition as science. Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, and the man who developed the major concepts behind the "intelligent design" movement, testified that the flagelli of bacteria -- their tails -- are scientific proof of the existence of an intelligent designer.

Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, took the stand. Behe is the originator and main proponent of the term "irreducible complexity," a pillar of Intelligent Design, which refers to the notion that certain organic structures are too intricate to have evolved on their own.

Outlining his ideas for the court, Behe asserted that the flagellum of bacteria-the tail they use to swim, which Behe compares to an outboard motor-are just such inexplicable structures. ''The parts are ordered for a purpose and therefore speak to design," said Behe.

Meanwhile, some of the people you'd expect to be most supportive of "intelligent design" are warning against it. The new pope has been quite vocal in his warnings against allowing faith to be misused as a way to undermine science.

[The day before the trial ended], the Vatican issued a statement warning against ignoring scientific reason, saying that by doing so, religion risks turning into fundamentalism. Cardinal Paul Poupard, who heads the Pontifical Council for Culture said:

"The permanent lesson that the Galileo case represents pushes us to keep alive the dialogue between the various disciplines, and in particular between theology and the natural sciences, if we want to prevent similar episodes from repeating themselves in the future."

He also argued that religion could act as the conscience of science, citing the atomic bomb and the possibility of human clones as scientific ideas devoid of ethics.

So maybe we should all look to the Vatican for the ability to distinguish between religious faith and the scientific method. Obviously that kind of common sense is in increasingly short supply in the nation founded on Enlightenment principles.

1 comment:

Chief said...

OT: This is the text of a talk given by Bill Moyers. I old him in the highest esteem.


More OT: In Ohio now, and for last week. Airwaves were inundated with either pro or con, with absolutely no explanation as to why, for five issues on the ballot. They were long and complicated. Bottom line: the bad guys told enuf lies and the voters were snookered, again.

Anyway, VA, NJ, CA and St. Paul all told Bush to "stuff it."