Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Intelligent Design and the Judge

The decision has been handed down, and it is probably no real shock that the judge in the ID court case in Dover, PA has ruled against ID being taught in the classroom.  I argued before that the details that gave rise to this case were probably weak, and a little silly, and I am sure there will come another court battle in the future on better and more solid ground.  Yahoo.  HT: ID In The News

What surprised me the most were some of the comments coming from the judge.  I must admit that when I first heard some of these excerpts quoted on the radio news, I just about flipped out of my seat.  So here is the judge’s take on the parents and school board members driving the ID issue:

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.

Maybe judges often accuse plaintiffs or defendants in a case of lying, I don’t know.  But this is especially egregious.  It reveals a profound prejudice on the part of the judge in which he seems to believe that no motivation on the part of a religious believer (probably just Christians) can also have real and legitimate scientific value as well.  If it comes from a believer, it must be just religion and thus a private matter and not something suitable for the public square.  It appears from this excerpt that what was at trial in the judge’s mind was the teaching of religion in the public square, and not the actual science involved in the case.

It will be objected here, as it often is, that ID is religion and not science.  My point is that that accusation is a separate issue than what was presented in the Dover case, and it seems to be a premise snuck in by the judge.  I had a friend who was called to testify in the case, and at the last minute was taken from the witness list because Michael Behe preceded him and had apparently done a bang-up job with the science.  Maybe the judge was sick that week.

Here is more of the measured and thoughtful ruling at a point in which the judge is preempting the “activist court” charge:

Rather, 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.

Honestly, if I had ever used the words “ill-informed” or “breathtaking inanity” in any of my graduate papers to describe an opposing point of view, I would have been chastised severely as letting colloquialisms and personal hobbyhorses get in the way of serious critique.  Is this language worthy of a serious opinion?

And to say that the factual backdrop has been “fully revealed” is just nonsense.  The judge had an agenda and his ruling makes that abundantly clear.

To put a fine point on that accusation, the judge went on to declare that teachers simply can not critique the theory of evolution in the classroom.  For what must be the umpteenth time on this blog, are we comfortable with a single, state-mandated position forced on students and teachers in any field of education?  The judge’s words:

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID.

Round two can’t be too far off…


Bitman said...

I'm currious - did you read anything but the verdict from the trial? Even Behe's final admission that he had to twist reality to make ID a science, even though he kept claiming it was?

I offer the option, that a judge just called people for what he observed during the trial - that people once pushed on the vitness stand changed their storries and were inconsistent. That's what lying is about.

What I find obscure is that you seem to be hinting, that religious people don't lie; and actually that's what shocking the judge too? He found it so reprehensible that he mentioned it in the text of the verdict.

My question to you would be, if any judge that doesn't agree with your stands would be considered an activist?

Phil Steiger said...


I have actually read quite a bit of Behe’s work, and it is wishful thinking on your part to guess that Behe really thinks his position is religious and not scientific. He is clear that it probably has religious consequences, but so does materialistic evolution-namely atheism. So don’t get the cart ahead of the horse and think that even ID’s defenders agree with evolutionary atheists that ID is a religious Trojan Horse.

The judge’s accusation of lying didn’t seem to be about their inconsistencies on the stand, but that in their “private” lives they were openly religious, but when asked on the stand if ID is a “religious” theory, they would argue no. It seems that you are failing to make the same distinction the judge seemed unable to make: religion does not automatically trump the scientific validity of one’s views. The judge was probably assuming that ID is nothing more than Sunday School fodder, and then didn’t have the mental category capable of letting him assess religious people believing in a scientific point of view for its own merits. What is abundantly common in ID’s opponents is the same sloppy thinking-assuming, presuming, and dismissing.

You also wrote: “What I find obscure is that you seem to be hinting, that religious people don't lie.” Where in the world did you get that? All people lie. But that is neither here nor there. I made no assertion to the contrary.

You also wrote: “My question to you would be, if any judge that doesn't agree with your stands would be considered an activist?” I made no accusation of the judge being an activist. The only reference to that actually came from the judge himself when he tried to preempt the accusation in his ruling. I made it clear at the beginning of the post that I thought the merits of this case were weak and was not surprised at the decision-that is exactly the opposite of accusing a judge of activism. So to answer your question, no.

monkey czar said...

Like you, I don't think local education is a federal issue. However, I'm not a fan of ID as a biological theory.

I disagree with one statement you made concerning the case itself: "teachers simply can not critique the theory of evolution in the classroom". The scientific method is built on critique. A science teacher would be remiss not to teach critical thinking as part of the scientific method.

What the judge enjoins is a particular curriculum element adopted by bureaucrats on the school board.

Phil Steiger said...


Thanks for your thoughts. You wrote, "The scientific method is built on critique." That is what is so ironic about this whole issue. Much of the scientific reaction to ID is quite absolutist and myopic instead of being something more akin to the scientific method. If the judge were true to the spirit of scientific inquiry, I am not sure he would have written the kinds of things he did about prohibiting any critique of evolution.

John said...

Well said.

Enjoyed reading your post.

Grace and Peace to you,

Anonymous said...

That is a good amendment.
In God we will rise above!!!