Thursday, December 14, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, no 9: the Dover ID case as a showcase example of manipulative secularist radicalism in the courts and media

BREAKING NEWS: A year after the Kitzmiller Decision in Dover, Pennsylvania, the Discovery Institute [DI] has just published a 34 p. article in which it shows, in devastating parallel columns, that Judge Jones' discussion of the alleged unscientific status of the empirically based inference to design, was largely copied from an ACLU submission, factual errors, misrepresentations and all.

DI summarises its findings thusly:

In December of 2005, critics of the theory of intelligent design (ID) hailed federal judge John E. Jones’ ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover, which declared unconstitutional the reading of a statement about intelligent design in public school science classrooms in Dover, Pennsylvania. Since the decision was issued, Jones’ 139-page judicial opinion has been lavished with praise as a “masterful decision” based on careful and independent analysis of the evidence. However, a new analysis of the text of the Kitzmiller decision reveals that nearly all of Judge Jones’ lengthy examination of “whether ID is science” came not from his own efforts or analysis but from wording supplied by ACLU attorneys. In fact, 90.9% (or 5,458 words) of Judge Jones’ 6,004- word section on intelligent design as science was taken virtually verbatim from the ACLU’s proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law” submitted to Judge Jones nearly a month before his ruling. Judge Jones even copied several clearly erroneous factual claims made by the ACLU. The finding that most of Judge Jones’ analysis of intelligent design was apparently not the product of his own original deliberative activity seriously undercuts the credibility of Judge Jones’ examination of the scientific validity of intelligent design.

Now, a year ago, Judge Jones of Pennsylvania issued his "landmark" decision on the Dover School Board case, which was indeed hailed in much of the major international media as a death-blow to the Intelligent Design movement (which has of course not gone away!). In effect, he ruled unconstitutional the reading out to students in 9th Grade [roughly, 3rd form] Biology the following statement:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.

That such a statement -- in a time in which Darwinian Biology and the broader ideas of evolutionary materialism plainly continue to be scientifically, philosophically and culturally controversial -- would be widely seen as an attempt to impose "religion" in the name of "science," is itself a clue that something has gone very wrong indeed.

For, it is immediately obvious on examining basic, easily accessible facts, that:

a] The Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution [NDT] is just that: theory, not fact. This means that insofar as it is science, it is an open-ended explanatory exercise, one that is subject to correction or replacement in light of further evidence and/or analysis, and one that seeks to summarise and make sense of a vast body of empirical data -- in which effort there are indeed key, persistent explanatory gaps.

b] Design Theory, in that light, is a re-emerging challenger as a scientific explanation, one that arguably better explains certain key features of, say the fossil record. (And, let us observe here, that ID should not be confused with, say Young Earth, specifically Biblically-oriented Creationism [YEC], which seeks to scientifically explain origins in a context that often -- but not always -- makes explicit reference to the Bible, regarded as an accurate record of origins. Nor, is it merely a critique of darwinian thought, but rather a working out of addressing the full range of root-explanations for phenomena: chance, necessity and agency, in light of the only actually known, empirically observed source of FSCI: intelligent agency. For example, design thought, as a movement, does not deny that significant macro-level evolution may well have happened across geological time [NB: YEC thinkers accept that micro-evolution can and does occur], but it is raising and addressing the really central, empirically based, scientific issue: how may we best explain where the functionally specific, complex information in life and in the biodiversity in the fossil record and current came from, given what we know about the observed source of such FSCI?)

c] For instance, as Loennig points out in a recent peer-reviewed paper -- a paper submitted to Judge Jones, BTW -- on the well-known problem for the NDT that the fossil record is marked by sudden appearances and disappearances, starting from the Cambrian life explosion, and a resulting multitude of "missing links":

[On the hypothesis that] there are indeed many systems and/or correlated subsystems in biology, which have to be classified as irreducibly complex and that such systems are essentially involved in the formation of morphological characters of organisms, this would explain both, the regular abrupt appearance of new forms in the fossil record as well as their constancy over enormous periods of time . . . For, if "several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function" are necessary for biochemical and/or anatomical systems to exist as functioning systems at all (because "the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning") such systems have to (1) originate in a non-gradual manner and (2) must remain constant as long as they are reproduced and exist [and also] (3) the equally abrupt disappearance of so many life forms in earth history . . . The reason why irreducibly complex systems would also behave in accord with point (3) is also nearly self-evident: if environmental conditions deteriorate so much for certain life forms (defined and specified by systems and/or subsystems of irreducible complexity), so that their very existence be in question, they could only adapt by integrating further correspondingly specified and useful parts into their overall organization, which prima facie could be an improbable process -- or perish . . . .

d] The call to an OPEN [but critically aware] mind in light of knowing the dominant theory and its gaps and that alternatives exist [note that ID was not to be expounded in the classroom!] is not a closing off of options but an opening of minds. (Notice how actual censorship is being praised when it serves the agenda of the secularist elites here.)

e] Given the persistent absence of a credible, robust account of the origin of the functionally specific, complex information [FSCI] and associated tightly integrated information systems at the heart of the molecular technology of life, the origin of life is the first gap in the broader -- and, BTW, arguably self-refuting -- evolutionary materialist account of origins. Further to this, we must observe the force of the issue Loennig raises in his peer reviewed article on the challenge of viable macro-level spontaneous ["chance"] changes in DNA that express themselves embryologically early bring this gap issue not only to chemical evolution, but to the macro-evolution that NDT is supposed to explain, but does not. Ands such major explanatory gaps in the account of macro-evolution start with the Cambrian life explosion as Meyer noted in another peer-reviewed article. [Both of these were of course brought to Judge Jones' attention, and both were obviously ignored, even at he cost of putting out falsehoods and misrepresentations authored by the ACLU in his opinion. No prizes for guessing why.]

f] So, while -- as DI argues -- ID is too pioneering to be a part of the High School level classroom exposition (as opposed to an issue that legitimately arises incidentally in debates and discussions), the cluster of persistent issues that NDT and wider evolutionary materialism cannot account for, definitely should be; on pain of turning the science classroom into an exercise in manipulative indoctrination. The ongoing censorship of this scientific, philosophical, and cultural controversy is therefore utterly telling.

A glance at major features of the ruling itself amply confirms the problem. For instance, observe how the Judge addresses a major concern in the case, revealing that he is indulging in improper activism in his attempt to decide by judicial fiat a matter that properly belongs to the philosophy of science:

. . . 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. [p. 63] (emphasis added)

It is unsurprising to see that, in the 139 page ruling, Judge Jones held -- among other things -- that the inference to design was an inherently illegitimate attempt to impose the supernatural on science, and so falls afoul of the US Constitution's First Amendment's principle of separation of Church and state. He also held, as a key plank in his decision -- even though an actual list of such papers was presented to him in a submission by the Discovery Institute [cf Appendix A4, p. 17, here] -- that there was no peer-reviewed ID supporting scientific literature.

Further to this, he refused to allow FTE, the publishers of the key book referenced in the case, Of Pandas and People, to intervene in the case to defend itself by participating in the trial, even though their work was being materially misrepresented -- which clearly affected the ruling.

Misrepresented? Yes, this book, in the published version [the one that is relevant to determining what the authors and publishers intended and what the impact of the book being in school libraries would likely be] explicitly states:

This book has a single goal: to present data from six areas of science that bear on the central question of biological origins. We don't propose to give final answers, nor to unveil The Truth. Our purpose, rather, is to help readers understand origins better, and to see why the data may be viewed in more than one way. (Of Pandas and People, 2nd ed. 1993, pg. viii) . . . .

Today we recognize that appeals to intelligent design may be considered in science, as illustrated by current NASA search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). Archaeology has pioneered the development of methods for distinguishing the effects of natural and intelligent causes. We should recognize, however, that if we go further, and conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science. (pg. 126-127, emphasis added)

In short -- and exactly as the 1984 technical level book, The Mystery of Life's Origins, the publication of which (claims to the contrary notwithstanding) is the actual historical beginning of the modern design movement [apart from in cosmology!] also argues -- we may properly and scientifically infer to intelligence as a cause from its empirically observable traces that are not credibly the product of chance or natural regularities.

But, of course, such an inference -- just as its opposite, the philosophically based premise that science "must" only infer to chance and natural regularities on questions of origins -- soon raises worldview issues. For, just as darwinian evolution is often used as a support for evolutionary materialism, a credible, empirically anchored scientific inference to design on the cases of: the origin of the molecular nanotechnology of life, that of the macro-level diversity of life and the origin of a finitely old, elegantly fine-tuned cosmos, plainly opens the philosophical and cultural doors to taking seriously what is "unacceptable" to many among the West's intensely secularised intellectual elites: God as the likely/credible intelligent designer, thence credibly the foundation of morality, law, and justice.

(So, let us pause: why is it that evolutionary materialist worldviews that go far beyond what is empirically and logically well-warranted are allowed to pass themselves off as "science," thus can freely go into the classroom, but empirically and logically/mathematically based serious challenges and alternatives to the claims of these worldviews that in fact appear in the peer-reviewed scientific and associated literature are excluded as "religion" [even when this is not at all objectively true]? Is this not blatant secularist indoctrination and censorship? Is not secular humanism, at minimum, a quasi-religion -- one that now is effectively established by court fiat under the pretence that we are "separating church and state"? Should we not instead teach key critical thinking skills and expose students to the range of live options, allowing them to draw their own, objectivley defensible conclusions for themselves in the context of honest classroom dialogue based on comparative difficulties? [NB: Here are my thoughts on science education, from a science teaching primer that I was once asked to develop. Perhaps, this lays out a few ideas on a positive way forward.])

Nor, is this worldview-level dispute a new point. Indeed, as far back as Plato in his The Laws, we may read:

Ath. . . . we have . . . lighted on a strange doctrine.
Cle. What doctrine do you mean?
Ath. The wisest of all doctrines, in the opinion of many.
Cle. I wish that you would speak plainer.
Ath. The doctrine that all things do become, have become, and will become, some by nature, some by art, and some by chance.
Cle. Is not that true?
Ath. Well, philosophers are probably right; at any rate we may as well follow in their track, and examine what is the meaning of them and their disciples.
Cle. By all means.
Ath. They say that the greatest and fairest things are the work of nature and of chance, the lesser of art, which, receiving from nature the greater and primeval creations, moulds and fashions all those lesser works which are generally termed artificial . . . . . fire and water, and earth and air, all exist by nature and chance . . . The elements are severally moved by chance and some inherent force according to certain affinities among them . . . After this fashion and in this manner the whole heaven has been created, and all that is in the heaven, as well as animals and all plants, and all the seasons come from these elements, not by the action of mind, as they say, or of any God, or from art, but as I was saying, by nature and chance only . . . . Nearly all of them, my friends, seem to be ignorant of the nature and power of the soul [i.e. mind], especially in what relates to her origin: they do not know that she is among the first of things, and before all bodies, and is the chief author of their changes and transpositions. And if this is true, and if the soul is older than the body, must not the things which are of the soul's kindred be of necessity prior to those which appertain to the body? . . . . if the soul turn out to be the primeval element, and not fire or air, then in the truest sense and beyond other things the soul may be said to exist by nature; and this would be true if you proved that the soul is older than the body, but not otherwise. [Emphases added]

Plato, of course is here seeking to ground the moral basis of law [cf the introduction to Book 10 in the linked], and thus exposes what is at stake in the current debate over the scientific status of the inference to design: the moral foundation of civilisation itself - not just a matter of the nominal, vexed but technical issue of demarking science from non-science. Thus, the intensity of the debate and the too-frequent resort to dubious rhetorical and legal tactics as just outlined are all too understandable: a lot is at stake.

Dubious rhetorical and legal tactics?

Yes, sad to say:

1] First and tellingly, as a lower court Federal Judge under the US Congress, Mr Jones, strictly, has no proper jurisdiction on the matter. The First Amendment to the US Constitution, in the relevant clauses states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech. That is, there is to be no Church of the United States [though at the time of passage in 1789, nine of thirteen states had state churches]. In that context, dissenters were to be free to hold and freely express and publish their beliefs. So, the specific matter in question in the Dover case should have been decided democratically by a well-informed local community, (That this is manifestly not so, shows -- sadly, but tellingly -- just how much the public has been ill-served by both the media and the courts.)

2] That on the ground, this is not so, and the related commonplace idea that the US Constitution establishes a separation of church and state -- increasingly, a separation of Judaeo-Christian worldview and state such that any tracing of any policy to such a worldview at once renders the policy in question suspect and to be banned, is a mark of longstanding successful manipulative misreadings of the US Contstitution, and of associated legislation from the bench by unaccountable judges, also known as judicial activism.

3] Indeed, the case in view is a showcase example of improper judicial activism and where it leads: Judge Jones took the submittal from one side, ignoring testimony and evidence in open court and in submittals from relevant parties that would have exposed the errors and misrepresentations. So, he took the ACLU's arguments, misrepresentations, obvious factual errors and all, and by and large reproduced it wholesale as his decision.

4] The root of these misrepresentations is the idea that inference to design is inherently about the injection of the supernatural into science, which is deemed improper. But in fact Judge Jones' idea that for centuries, science has been defined as exclusively naturalistic is simply false to the history of Science. For, as Dan Peterson notes:
Far from being inimical to science, then, the Judeo-Christian worldview is the only belief system that actually produced it. Scientists who (in Boyle's words) viewed nature as "the immutable workmanship of the omniscient Architect" were the pathfinders who originated the scientific enterprise. The assertion that intelligent design is automatically "not science" because it may support the concept of a creator is a statement of materialist philosophy, not of any intrinsic requirement of science itself.
5] Nor (as we saw above) is the design inference -- ACLU et al notwithstanding, properly speaking, as a scientific inference, an inference to the supernatural [as opposed to the intelligent]. Indeed, when William Dembski (perhaps the leading design theorist) sets out to formally define, he writes:
. . . intelligent design begins with a seemingly innocuous question: Can objects, even if nothing is known about how they arose, exhibit features that reliably signal the action of an intelligent cause? . . . Proponents of intelligent design, known as design theorists, purport to study such signs formally, rigorously, and scientifically. Intelligent design may therefore be defined as the science that studies signs of intelligence.
6] In this context, the Judge's [and the ACLU's] gross factual error of insisting in the teeth of actual listed and accessible peer reviewed scientific publications that are supportive of the design inference, is utterly inexcusable -- and (since the judge may simply naively have allowed himself to be misled) it is frankly dishonest on the part of the likes of the ACLU and others who insistently assert this falsehood.

So, what a difference a year makes! Those who stood up a year ago and said -- with reasons -- from day one that this case was wrongly ruled on and unjustly decided, are now vindicated. However, given what is at stake, I will not hold my breath waiting for an apology and retraction.

For, sadly, the discourse in education, the media, courts and parliaments these days is too often more a matter of spin than of fearless straight thinking that seeks to discover and stand up for the truth, the right, the wise and the sound. As the Greeks used to say, a word to the wise . . . END

UPDATE: Minor editing, addition of a few comments and of links. Also, Dec 16, expanding on the Dover statement in light of a comment made at EO.