Court Victory Against “Intelligent Design”

by | Dec 25, 2005

There was a significant defeat for the whole Intelligent Disguise–excuse me, Intelligent Design (ID)–movement today, when a Harrisburg, PA judge ruled against its being taught in the schools of a local school district. CNN reports: HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) — A Pennsylvania school district cannot teach in science classes a concept that says some aspects of […]

There was a significant defeat for the whole Intelligent Disguise–excuse me, Intelligent Design (ID)–movement today, when a Harrisburg, PA judge ruled against its being taught in the schools of a local school district. CNN reports:

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) — A Pennsylvania school district cannot teach in science classes a concept that says some aspects of science were created by a supernatural being, a federal judge has ruled.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching “intelligent design” would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state.

“We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,” Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court’s Web site.

What is particularly noteworthy is Judge Jones’ epistemological statements in support of his decision:

“To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.”

By any rational standard, Darwin’s theory of evolution is perfect. And “testability” is not the criterion of science. But kudos to the judge for putting his finger on the main issue: certainty without omniscience. The strategy of the ID movement is to argue for the injection of the irrational based solely on the (often spurious) claim that there are a few cases in which we don’t yet know the full evolutionary story.

The argument of the ID people goes this way: we don’t yet know how the bacteria’s flagella evolved, therefore we don’t know Darwin was right, therefore we can equate Darwin and the supernatural.

The judge’s whole opinion is quite long, and so are my excerpts, but they are well worth reading: it is inspiring to see what an honest, clear-thinking individual can figure out. The whole decision is here.

Here are a few other interesting excerpts from it.

“Although proponents of the IDM [Intelligent Design movement] occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist [!!!], no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses.

In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science …”

“ID proponents Johnson, William Dembski, and Charles Thaxton … situate ID in the Book of John in the New Testament of the Bible, which begins, ‘In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was God.'”

“In addition to the IDM itself describing ID as a religious argument, ID’s religious nature is evident because it involves a supernatural designer. The courts in Edwards and McLean expressly found that this characteristic removed creationism from the realm of science and made it a religious proposition.”

“Defendants’ expert witness ID proponents confirmed that the existence of a supernatural designer is a hallmark of ID. First, Professor Behe has written that by ID he means ‘not designed by the laws of nature,’ and that it is ‘implausible that the designer is a natural entity.’ Second, Professor Minnich testified that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered.

Third, Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural.”

The above are admissions by those in favor of ID!

“It is notable that not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition.”

The judge quotes from materials the ID people want read to students, and he makes a very accurate analysis of it:

” ‘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.’

” This paragraph singles out evolution from the rest of the science curriculum and informs students that evolution, unlike anything else that they are learning, is ‘just a theory,’ which plays on the ‘colloquial or popular understanding of the term [theory] and suggest[ing] to the informed, reasonable observer that evolution is only a highly questionable ‘opinion’ or a ‘hunch.'”

Amen.

“Dr. Padian bluntly and effectively stated that in confusing students about science generally and evolution in particular, the disclaimer makes students ‘stupid.'”

The judge points out the epistemological double standard of the ID movement:

“The theory or ‘view’ of evolution, which has been discredited by the District in the student’s eyes, is contrasted with an alternative ‘explanation,’ as opposed to a ‘theory,’ that can be offered without qualification or cautionary note. The alternative ‘explanation’ thus receives markedly different treatment from evolutionary ‘theory.'”

“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 to seek out religious instruction elsewhere.”

“After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.”

“It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept.”

“… lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology.”

“ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed.”

“However, we believe that arguments against evolution are not arguments for design. Expert testimony revealed that just because scientists cannot explain today how biological systems evolved does not mean that they cannot, and will not, be able to explain them tomorrow. As Dr. Padian aptly noted, ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.'”

And he’s even good on the biology:

“We initially note that irreducible complexity as defined by Professor Behe in his book Darwin’s Black Box and subsequently modified in his 2001 article entitled ‘Reply to My Critics,’ appears as follows:

‘By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning. An irreducibly complex system cannot be produced directly by slight, successive modifications of a precursor system, because any precursor to an irreducibly complex system that is missing a part is by definition nonfunctional . . . Since natural selection can only choose systems that are already working, then if a biological system cannot be produced gradually it would have to arise as an integrated unit, in one fell swoop, for natural selection to have anything to act on.’

“Professor Behe admitted in ‘Reply to My Critics’ that there was a defect in his view of irreducible complexity because, while it purports to be a challenge to natural selection, it does not actually address ‘the task facing natural selection.’ Professor Behe specifically explained that ‘[t]he current definition puts the focus on removing a part from an already functioning system,’ but ‘[t]he difficult task facing Darwinian evolution, however, would not be to remove parts from sophisticated pre-existing systems; it would be to bring together components to make a new system in the first place.’ In that article, Professor Behe wrote that he hoped to ‘repair this defect in future work’; however, he has failed to do so even four years after elucidating his defect.”

“Although Professor Behe is adamant in his definition of irreducible complexity when he says a precursor ‘missing a part is by definition nonfunctional,’ what he obviously means is that it will not function in the same way the system functions when all the parts are present. For example in the case of the bacterial flagellum, removal of a part may prevent it from acting as a rotary motor. However, Professor Behe excludes, by definition, the possibility that a precursor to the bacterial flagellum functioned not as a rotary motor, but in some other way, for example as a secretory system.

“As expert testimony revealed, the qualification on what is meant by ‘irreducible complexity’ renders it meaningless as a criticism of evolution. In fact, the theory of evolution proffers exaptation as a well-recognized, well-documented explanation for how systems with multiple parts could have evolved through natural means. Exaptation means that some precursor of the subject system had a different, selectable function before experiencing the change or addition that resulted in the subject system with its present function For instance, Dr. Padian identified the evolution of the mammalian middle ear bones from what had been jawbones as an example of this process. By defining irreducible complexity in the way that he has, Professor Behe attempts to exclude the phenomenon of exaptation by definitional fiat, ignoring as he does so abundant evidence which refutes his argument.”

Judge Jones in his decision reviews the scientific evidence presented in court that roundly refutes ID claims that natural selection cannot explain its pet three cases: the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting system, and the immune system. He concludes:

“We find that such evidence demonstrates that the ID argument is dependent upon setting a scientifically unreasonable burden of proof for the theory of evolution.”

Keep reading: there’s more good stuff. Here’s my favorite. It goes to the core of the ID movement’s revival of the hoary Argument from Design.

“Indeed, the assertion that design of biological systems can be inferred from the ‘purposeful arrangement of parts’ is based upon an analogy to human design. Because we are able to recognize design of artifacts and objects, according to Professor Behe, that same reasoning can be employed to determine biological design. Professor Behe testified that the strength of the analogy depends upon the degree of similarity entailed in the two propositions; however, if this is the test, ID completely fails.

“Unlike biological systems, human artifacts do not live and reproduce over time. They are non-replicable, they do not undergo genetic recombination, and they are not driven by natural selection. For human artifacts, we know the designer’s identity, human, and the mechanism of design, as we have experience based upon empirical evidence that humans can make such things, as well as many other attributes including the designer’s abilities, needs, and desires. With ID, proponents assert that they refuse to propose hypotheses on the designer’s identity, do not propose a mechanism, and the designer, he/she/it/they, has never been seen.”

If only philosophers could reason as well!

“It is readily apparent to the Court that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed. This inference to design based upon the appearance of a ‘purposeful arrangement of parts’ is a completely subjective proposition …”

“… ID proponents generally and [the ID book] Pandas specifically, distort and misrepresent scientific knowledge in making their anti-evolution argument.”

“The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.”

The Judge also found an incredible amount of dishonesty, including outright lies in court, committed by the religionist school board members. Here is one summary statement, he cites by a school board member who resigned in protest over what was going on:

“The following excerpt from Casey Brown’s poignant resignation speech speaks volumes about what had occurred within the Board by that time:

‘There has been a slow but steady marginalization of some board members. Our opinions are no longer valued or listened to. Our contributions have been minimized or not acknowledged at all. A measure of that is the fact that I myself have been twice asked within the past year if I was ‘born again.’ No one has, nor should have the right, to ask that of a fellow board member. An individual’s religious beliefs should have no impact on his or her ability to serve as a school board director, nor should a person’s beliefs be used as a yardstick to measure the value of that service.'”

What happened to Casey Brown? Judge Jones tells us:

“Casey Brown testified that following her opposition to the curriculum change on October 18, 2004, Buckingham called her an atheist and Bonsell told her that she would go to hell.”

Buckingham and Bonsell are the two violently religious school board members who spearheaded the attack on teaching evolution.

“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.”

“In the midst of this panoply, there arose the astonishing story of an evolution mural that was taken from a classroom and destroyed in 2002 by Larry Reeser, the head of buildings and grounds for the DASD. At the June 2004 meeting, Spahr asked Buckingham where he had received a picture of the evolution mural that had been torn down and incinerated. Jen Miller testified that Buckingham responded: ‘I gleefully watched it burn.'”

“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.”

“… our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.”

By virtue of the thoroughness of Judge Jones in laying bare the real meaning of ID and the inherent dishonesty of its attempt to pose as science and critical thinking (which he calls “a sham”), the ID movement may never recover.

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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