Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intelligent Design: Continuing the Fight

We need to make it clear that, not only did the Dover school board members lose in its attempt to introduce intelligent design in a science class, they deserved to lose.

I must confess that I had some secret hopes that Judge Jones would have decided the Dover Pennsylvania Intelligent Design case in favor of the Dover Area School District, upholding their use of a disclaimer favoring Intelligent Design in science classes.

I felt that if the teaching of science as science was sufficiently threatened, we could get some more resources directed into teaching people what science was, how it worked, why intelligent design is not good science, and why intelligent design is not good philosophy. I felt that it would lead to a significant increase in the amount of effort that was going into teaching people why the Dover Intelligent Design Policy was wrong.

I suspect that a lot of good people, who would otherwise have stayed on the sidelines, would have sought out ways to contribute to a campaign to educate the people. They would have sought to organize campaigns on their own, taking greater interest in the electoral process – particularly school board elections, and countering the anti-science campaign of the ID faction. They would help to create a population less inclined to fall for the trap of individuals using the government to indoctrinate all children -- whose parents hold a number of different religious views -- into adopting a specific religious views of those who control the local school board.

An Example of What Must Be Learned

As it is, Judge Jones wrote a remarkable piece of work (pdf). The 139-page opinion goes through the case in painstaking detail and explains precisely what was wrong with the actions taken by the Dover School Board in the eyes of the law.

As I have said in the past, I am not concerned with what the law actually says in a case, but with what the law should say. Yet, in many cases, the arguments are remarkably similar. Some of our laws actually are as they should be, and they can then be defended for the right reasons. We can see an example in the statement that the Dover School Board wanted read to its 9th grade students.

In his opinion, Paul explained the purpose of the test of the reasonable observer and its history in the law, how it worked, and why it was used. Then he applied it to the Dover statement, explaining carefully the message it was designed to convey to the Dover school district students. After giving his detailed analysis, he provided a brief summary.

"In summary, the disclaimer singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead seek out religious instruction elsewhere."

The casual reader – particularly the casual reader inclined to give intelligent design a pass, can easily look at the statement and think it is permissible. The reader who takes the time to actually read what Judge Paul wrote about that statement can gain a much better understanding of what was wrong with it.

The Effects of the Decision

To the bulk of the population, the nature of this argument is going to remain hidden on the pages of an opinion they will never read or hear about. A huge majority of the population will hear nothing about this decision other than what they have heard from friends or co-workers, and perhaps what they catch of a 2-minute news blurb designed to promote entertainment and ratings more than to promote understanding. They will not get nearly enough contact with the actual arguments to engage their sense of right and wrong.

Thus, their existing views as to whether the Dover school district was right or wrong will remain unchanged. If they felt that this should be permissible before the judge's opinion was released – and a substantial majority of the population did share this view – then they will end with the opinion that the courts are being used to prohibit that which should be permitted.

This will give the ID proponents a tremendous opportunity to raise money and to manipulate voters. They will go to the people and tell them that, "The government is prohibiting something that you think should be permitted. Join us, and we will change the government so that it permits that which you think should be permitted."

They are going to do this anyway. The difference, if the decision had gone the other way, is that if the science and pro-science community were facing a more imminent threat to the future of science education, they will be out on the field challenging the ID supporters. They will be organizing their own campaigns, which will render the pro-ID campaigns less effective.

As it is, I fear that the science and pro-science community is going to find itself substantially less well motivated to fight these forces. Thinking that the courts will protect their values, many are going to go on to other interesting tasks, leaving the ID supporters with uncontested (or significantly less contested) access to the public.

This will leave the public significantly more misinformed about science, about evolution, and even about the political realities of the world in which we live. Almost certainly, many ID supporters are going to say that this decision is a hate-crime against Christianity and part of a liberal/atheist campaign to seduce children into the atheist materialism of science. If this is the only message that the people hear, then we should be ready to expect that this is what they will believe.

They will then use this to feed a movement where the people contribute money and time to their organizations, so that they can elect the “right” politicians, who will appoint the “right” judges, who realize that our life comes from God and are willing to make that a foundation of their judicial decisions.

Why Care?

Why is it important to combat the idea that "intelligent design" is a theory?

To put it bluntly, the anti-science league promotes sickness, suffering, and death.

Medical advances are built on an understanding of how living organisms work. The best scientific evidence we have says that this understanding is intrinsically tied up with an understanding that we are the products of an evolutionary process. Every organ, protein, and body function was subject to billions of years of evolutionary pressure. Understanding that fact aids in understanding what these biological entities are and why they work the way they do.

This does not mean that every good doctor must believe in evolution. A doctor's need to understand evolutionary theory is no greater than a word processor's need to understand computer programming.

However, new medical breakthroughs, like new features put into a word processing program, require somebody that understands evolution in the first instance, or computer programming in the second. Cures for all of the diseases that presently plague the human race -- as well as those that are about to -- will be discovered by people who understand and accept evolutionary theory.

To the degree that these ID proponents are successful in promoting ignorance and contempt for evolutionary theory, to that degree otherwise bright and promising minds will turn away from helping to find and apply cures to these diseases. To that degree, we can expect disease, suffering, and death that a better-educated society would prevent.

That is a bad thing.


So, I would like to suggest that people put as much effort into informing the public why Judge Jones made the right decision, as they would have spent criticizing that decision if it had gone the other way.

As for me, as something with a particularly strong interest in ethics, I have my own points to focus in.

• According to Judge Jones, these self-proclaimed models of religious virtue lied under oath in his court in an attempt to win a victory.

• These people sought responsibility for educating the children of Dover County – children of parents who hold a wide variety of beliefs – then abused their power to try to seduce those captive children into accepting their specific religious views.

• They used taxpayer money to advance a religious campaign. Muslims, Jews, atheists, and others paid the taxes that these Board Members used to try to tell 9th grade students to seek religious truth in their creationist literature. None of this money is coming out of their pockets; they lost nothing. The taxpayers, who paid these taxes for the purpose of educating their children, instead had their money used to promote a religious agenda.

• Though they accepted a moral responsibility to care for the education of the children of Dover County, they adopted a policy that misrepresented the status of the theory of evolution, suggesting that its status was somehow different than the status given to the theory of gravity, atomic theory, the heliocentric theory of the solar system, and other scientific theories. In short, they sought to uneducated the children of Dover.

• As role-models, they taught the children of Dover County and the world that they think it is permissible (and Christian) to lie under oath, abuse power, misuse taxpayer money, and engage in intellectual recklessness.

We need to make it clear that, not only did the Dover school board members lose, they deserved to lose.


Anonymous said...

I think it's only fair to say that they deserved to lose because they were wrong. Anything beyond that is a fallacy.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Don Jr.: Dr. Angus Menuge misrepresents the argument in order to refute it. Judge Jones did not argue "These people had a religious motive, therefore the policy is religious."

He carefully defines and applies the Supreme Court tests used to evaluate constitutionality. The first test, endorsement, looks at what the disclaimer would mean to an objective, culturally aware student. This does not involve intent at all. Rather, it involves the meaning of the disclaimer itself.

We do not hear about intent until Judge Jones gets to around page 95 (of a 139-page opinion), where he applies the Lemon Test. Here, the point is that the Constitution does not allow people to defend their attempts to establish a religion by claiming that their attempts were clumsy and doomed to fail. If the attempt to establish a religion is present, then the act was wrong.

It is the same standard used against a person who attempts to commit murder. If his intention was to commit murder, he is guilty of a crime. Here, Judge Jones proves intent -- thus proving that a constitutional violation has taken place.

Anonymous said...

Judge Jones made a point I'd like to highlight (this is paraphrasing): "Intelligent Design might be right, but it isn't science."

Anti-evolution movements often pretend they are about scientific integrity, but they really have nothing to do with it. They really don't care about science at all. The number one reason ID should not be allowed in science class is because it is not science, pure and simple.