December 21, 2005

The powerful district court decision in the Intelligent Design case.

Here's the NYT report on yesterday's decision in the Intelligent Design case. An excerpt:
Judge [John E. Jones III], a Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded that intelligent design was not science, and that in order to claim that it is, its proponents admit they must change the very definition of science to include supernatural explanations....

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," Judge Jones wrote. "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."...

Judge Jones's decision is legally binding only for school districts in the middle district of Pennsylvania. It is unlikely to be appealed because the school board members who supported intelligent design were unseated in elections in November and replaced with a slate that opposes the intelligent design policy and said it would abide by the judge's decision.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said at a news conference in Harrisburg that the judge's decision should serve as a deterrent to other school boards and teachers considering teaching intelligent design....

Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who helped to argue the case, said, "We sincerely hope that other school districts who may have been thinking about intelligent design will pause, they will read Judge Jones's erudite opinion and they will look at what happened in the Dover community in this battle, pitting neighbor against neighbor."
What a powerful district court opinion! It will remain unreviewed, the final word at the end of a cautionary tale for all school boards who contemplate adopting Intelligent Design in the future.
Eugenie Scott, executive director, National Center for Science Education, an advocacy group in Oakland, Calif., that promotes teaching evolution, said in an interview, "I predict that another school board down the line will try to bring intelligent design into the curriculum like the Dover group did, and they'll be a lot smarter about concealing their religious intent."
It's hard to see how they will ever hide this intent. If there is any controversy at all -- and could there not be? -- opponents will bring up the Dover case and make much of the fact that a federal judge has equated Intelligent Design with religion. It simply won't be possible to adopt Intelligent Design without talking a lot about religion now. The next school board may be "smarter" about what it needs to do to achieve its end, but if it's that smart, it should also perceive the world of trouble that lies ahead. If the judge's decision doesn't faze them, the political losses of the school board that voted yes certainly should. Proponents of teaching Intelligent Design in science classes will have a hard time admitting it, but this one district court opinion just killed their movement.

51 comments:

Slocum said...

Proponents of teaching Intelligent Design in science classes will have a hard time admitting it, but this one district court opinion just killed their movement.

Perhaps. But I think it's likely will be that the movement will regroup and change course for the Nth time and, possibly, redirect their energies into the politics of greater support for alternatives to public schools (vouchers for parochial schools, vouchers used for home schooling, etc).

But I think you're right that the cause of I.D. in public school science classes is, fortunately, dead.

the pooka said...

I'm not so sure. (And I'm not just saying that to be contrary...I think I'm more with slocum on this one). A lot of folks have invested a lot of money, time, and intellectual energy into the ID project. While this probably does zero out the chances of ID appearing in public high school science classrooms any time soon, I can imagine:

- pressure being put on legislators and school boards / commissions to adopt text books that recognize the perspective, which will lead to

- greater pressure on the part of the authors of such texts to include at least a mention of ID, if not more (thus legitimizing the "theory"),

- efforts to introduce ID into philosophy / social studies classes,

- and of course, the Quixotic (but fund-raisingly effective) pursuit of a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision. (Groups like this can always find at least one sympathetic yahoo in Congress to introduce such an amendment).

None of these may "work," but all will serve to keep the movement alive much longer than we (or, at least, I) would care to see it last.

Ann Althouse said...

My point is the school boards will all say no now. I can't picture the kind of political pressure that would work on them. But if some board is naive or foolish enough to vote yes, it will leave the kind of tracks that lead to decisions like the one in Dover and should cave at the first look at the litigation.

bill said...

I'm waiting to see if this will affect the Cobb County sticker case.

Last week,a federal appeals court in Atlanta heard arguments over whether the Cobb County school district could put stickers on biology textbooks describing evolution as a theory, not fact. A federal judge ordered the stickers removed in January.

Can we expect the appeals court to reference the Dover case, or would this be outside an appeals court normal practice?

APF said...

- efforts to introduce ID into philosophy / social studies classes

What's wrong with talking about ID in a philosophy class? Isn't that where it belongs?

brylin said...

A District Court opinion with such great precedential value so that school boards in, say, Kansas would feel pressured? Are you sure?

SippicanCottage said...
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the pooka said...

apf said:

What's wrong with talking about ID in a philosophy class? Isn't that where it belongs?

Actually, I don't think there's much wrong with it at all, at least not constitutionally speaking. If it belongs anywhere (and that's a gargantuan "if"), it belongs there.

My point was only that the ID movement still has a lot of potential battles they think need fighting, and that therefore they are unlikely to go away any time soon.

Ann Althouse said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"A District Court opinion with such great precedential value so that school boards in, say, Kansas would feel pressured? Are you sure?"

You've mis-asked the question. It's not precedential value, which is almost nil. It's persuasive value to other judges, and -- much more important -- cautionary impact on school boards.

chuck b. said...

I don't think the ID crowd has much steam left. After all, that "theory" isn't what they really believe in; god is. How to get god back in the class room--that's the agenda. ID was just a means to an end. Time to regroup and find a new means.

SteveR said...

chuck b: I suspect lthat as with Creationism, the idea of getting back into the science classroom, will come again at some point. This decision will make it much harder to get anywhere, thankfully.

Not a judgement but a wish, could these people find a more effective witness than fighting the Scopes Monkey Trial again (and again)?

jeff said...

Eventually this is going to come back to bite academia - they're letting the courts decide what is science.

Not a good idea.

Slocum said...

My point is the school boards will all say no now. I can't picture the kind of political pressure that would work on them. But if some board is naive or foolish enough to vote yes, it will leave the kind of tracks that lead to decisions like the one in Dover and should cave at the first look at the litigation.

Well, boards don't vote in favor of I.D. because of political pressure. What happens is that a pro I.D. slate of candidates runs, wins, and takes over a board. Most people on school boards aren't interested in political careers and may not even want to be re-elected and have to serve another term. And I'm pretty sure the pro I.D. board members in Dover ran for school board because of this one issue alone.

A board takeover like in Dover isn't necessarily that hard to do because school board elections usually have very low turnouts. So there's a common pattern -- a slate of candidates representing a passionate minority viewpoint gets elected (possibly by not making these views explicit), the new board makes an unpopular, high-profile decision -- not caring if the decision is unpopular because they don't want to be re-elected anyway. The community then wakes up and throws the bums out as soon as possible (but sometimes the damage is already done, if it was a matter of firing a superintendent, or opening schools or closing schools, or changing attendence boundaries, etc).

Local school boards really aren't like state and federal legislatures -- the pathologies are distinct.

SippicanCottage said...
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chuck b. said...

Jeff said, "they're letting the courts decide what is science."

I'm not sure if that's necessarily a bad thing. Science isn't that hard to define. They could easily get it right.

chuck b. said...

Also, the courts by now surely have a working definition of religion. (Is it a controversial one?) Surely defining religion is slipperier (??) than defining science.

Also, I'm lazy and you're all so smart and informed: is there a short answer to why a federal court had jurisdiction for this case? Will plaintiffs in future suits have the option of federal jurisdiction?

SippicanCottage said...
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chuck b. said...

SC, thanks for the clarification and I'm sure you're correct to doubt the wisdom of some judges and reasonable to quibble with the writing of the case.

I'm going to quibble (and I mean quibble) with you about one point that's off-center from the thrust of your comment because I think it's important.

According to the NYT article, the judge wrote, "Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect"--that's not saying his theory wasn't scientific. Of course any scientific theory is imperfect.

This, however, is his holding: "[T]he 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."

I'm happy to go forward w/ that.

Wade_Garrett said...

Brylin - Ann's point about the persuasive value is right on; I think its the most important thing to take away from the case.

Even if it was the 3rd Circuit, instead of a district court, the opinion would still have persuasive value over the other circuits in the country. Persuasive value is important even for 'binding' precedent. It is so easy to differentiate cases on narrow factual or procedural grounds that judges can usually find away around 'binding' precedent if they want to. A lot of district court opinions are just short court orders; this opinion is long and forceful and should have a lot of persuasive influence in other parts of the country. I salute this judge.

SteveSC said...

I agree with Jeff that it is a bad idea to have the courts decide what is science. If you look at the three key findings, the first says:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.

Since when does science not permit supernatural causation? The question of the supernatural (i.e. God) is unfalsifiable, and thus properly belongs outside of the realm of science. That is what so many people complain about in ID. But here the judge is including an unfalsifiable preposition as part of his definition of science, e.g., science does not permit God!

This is what raises the ire of all of the 'God-fearing' red-state residents--the belief that the public schools are NOT neutral, they are actively 'preaching' against religion. Whether or not this belief is true (and it probably varies mostly by the teacher), judges are doing nothing to calm the situation by violating the same standards they accuse the ID proponents of violating.

Eli Blake said...

Jeff:

Eventually this is going to come back to bite academia - they're letting the courts decide what is science.

Well, we live in a society ruled by law. Academia is ruled by the same courts as the rest of society. And what other choice did they have? Not file the lawsuit (which was filed by parents, incidentally) and let them go on teaching it?

It's therefore incumbent on all of us to see that our judges rule using common sense.

AS FOR THE NOTION THAT CREATIONISM WILL MOVE TO PUSHING MORE FOR PRIVATE AND HOME SCHOOLING (to a large degree they already are):

The big suit involving that (which I linked to on yesterday's thread) is now going on in California. A group of private schools is suing the University of California over the decision by the University to reject all applicants from these schools, citing deficiencies in the science curriculum. If the University prevails, then it will effectively stop this movement since (with the exception of some private Bible colleges) other universities will follow suite and their students will be paying a price in terms of their career opportunities. On the other hand, if the private schools win, then expect that to really accelerate the movement on the part of Creationists to push for vouchers for private schools and other ways of moving kids out of the public schools and into venues where Creationism is taught.

SippicanCottage said...
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Pooh said...

I'm trying to imagine a theory upon which the California case could be won by the private schools. Private colleges can accept or deny any curriculum they want right?

And arguing that public universities should accept 'religious science' classes was dealt a blow yesterday, I think. A 'discrimination' theory seems unlikely to win - If ID isn't science, then an ID class isn't a science class, right?

As to ID in public HS, the proponents really shot themselves in the foot here. From reading the opinion, it's hard to imagine them adopting a more provactive stance. Which, I'm sure, is part of the reason this 'activist judge' (and by activist I mean 'applied settled precedent') came down so hard on them.

Goesh said...

- they'll just have to splash a dash of holy water on their rapped noggins and move on and address the theory from another venue - God loves a righteous loser

brylin said...

As to its persuasive value in, say, Kansas, consider this from today's Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com:

Quote of the Day I

"The Pennsylvania ruling [barring the teaching of "intelligent design" in science classes] will do nothing to end the battle over the teaching of human origins that has plagued public schools since the Scopes trial of 1925. It, and all the other cultural and religious 'school wars' that divide our nation, will rage on unless we do something about their root cause: our one-size-fits-all government school system." -- Andrew J. Coulson and Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute.

chuck b. said...

Quoting (page 64) of the ruling, stevesc says:

"'(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.'

Since when does science not permit supernatural causation?"

***


Science does not invoke or permit supernatural causation because science cannot study supernatural causation.

This does not represent a jarring definition of science by the judiciary. It's a rather bland acknowledgment.

The court, like science, takes no position on ID, because ID isn't science. Not being science, ID shouldn't be taught with science.

chuck b. said...

More correctly, I should have written, "Science, like the court,..."

Pogo said...

This decision is not unlike the Roe abortion decision, in a way. A jurist has attempted to "settle" the argument on teaching Evolution, but it merely pushes off the decision to another day, and another venue.

But the state and the courts really have nothing to say about the underlying question here: the existence or absence of God.

The elephant in the room here is that many supporters of evolution assume the process somehow proves that God does not exist. Thus, to permit a simple discussion in science class that the theory as it operates neither endorses nor refutes the hidden hand of a deity is considered unteneble. The largely atheist world of science cannot stand by and let a mere majority decide that they want to teach their own children that the process of evolution does not speak to the existence of God in any way at all. Period.

For a university to suggest that it would refuse to take students schooled in ID is quite laughable, as many home-schooled kids far outperform their public school competitors. I suspect they'll have difficulty defending the rejection of a student because one small part of one science topic is found wanting.

Anyway, this seems yet another example of the left wanting the court to decide how the world should work. And I remain opposed to that method of anti-democracy. I often wonder what the anti-religion evolution proponents fear from such a debate.

I know evolution is true, but I also believe in a God behind it all. I am a scientist as well, but these are not contradictory positions. Trying to stifle discussion about Evolution by use of the courts is doomed to failure, just like Roe.

chuck b. said...
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chuck b. said...

I remember my 9th grade (public school) biology teacher telling the class that evolution in no way ruled out the existence of god.

Noone (& certainly not I) raised a federal question about it.

chuck b. said...

Pogo said, "[T]o permit a simple discussion in science class that the theory as it operates neither endorses nor refutes the hidden hand of a deity is considered unteneble."

I don't think that's an untenable at all for a science classroom. In fact, I think it's perfectly appropriate.

"If you are looking for God, look elsewhere. You will not find him using science."


I agree slightly more with the point about what universities may or may not require of home-schooled students--especially public universities.

People are entitled to believe what they want. But they are not entitled to have science validate their unscientific ideas.

nunzio said...

Science doesn't have anything to say about the existence of God or Gods, it also has nothing to say about morality or metaphysics or the other stuff philosophy is made of.

Maybe these ID folks will move their curriculum to the non-science departments. That will probably be the next front, I suppose.

Then we'll find out if high school curriculum can include discussions, etc. about the existence of God. Can the curriculum include discussions of morality, which is mostly based on free will, which is not scientifically provable, hence metaphysical?

I'm glad I'm done with high school.

SippicanCottage said...
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Ann Althouse said...

"is there a short answer to why a federal court had jurisdiction for this case? Will plaintiffs in future suits have the option of federal jurisdiction?"

(Note: I teach a course called Federal Jurisdiction.)

It's easy: it's a case that arises under federal law, so there's jurisdiction under 28 USC § 1331. The claim was made under the US Constitution (the Establishment Clause). You get to throw the state constitutional claim in too, per 28 USC § 1367.

Danny said...

The month-old statement from the Vatican along with this ruling should thankfully derail whatever ID movement existed. But I want to know what'll happen to the the Lehigh microbiology prof who served as the lone scientific opinion for the ID side. And don't forget about the president, he has a pro-ID statement on his transcript.

Pooh said...

For a university to suggest that it would refuse to take students schooled in ID is quite laughable, as many home-schooled kids far outperform their public school competitors. I suspect they'll have difficulty defending the rejection of a student because one small part of one science topic is found wanting.

Well, the NCAA does this all time for athletes. While athletic factory 'prep-academies' are manifestly not the same as home schools or parochial schools, Colleges have every right to look at curriculum with a critical eye.

I think the point is that if a student's science classes were all "God-science" classes, teaching things that aren't NAS-style science, a Collere or University would quite rightly view that student as less prepared than a counterpart with NAS-science classes.

Pogo said...

Re: "...if a student's science classes were all "God-science" classes, teaching things that aren't NAS-style science, a Collere or University would quite rightly view that student as less prepared than a counterpart with NAS-science classes."

That would only be true if objective testing, such as the SAT/ACT tests, demonstrated the inadequacy of their training. The athlete comparison works only when you see student-athletes with abysmal SAT/ACT scores and high grades in "Rocks for Jocks" type fluff courses.

That's not what's happening here. The public universities are declaring that the content of a single section in all of biology dealing with evolution must be taught without referring to a creator. While those creationists who completely deny the fact of evolution will clearly be in error on a few science questions, I doubt that would drag down much of their scores.

I don't see how that will pass review in the courts. We'll soon see the first tests of this rule when a homeschooler with high SAT science scores is refused admission. I wonder what their defense will be? Something like: "We can do whatever we want to"? Good luck to them with that approach.

I wonder why they haven't similarly rejected people who believe in astrology, tarot, or feng shui? Will colleges also require applicants to check off boxes if they have any irrational beliefs, and summarily reject them?

Pogo said...

I'll put it this way:
The South Park Underpants Gnomes have a three-phase business plan, consisting of:
1. Collect underpants
2. ?
3. Profit!

...where the second step is unknown.

Some Universities, and the National Center for Science Education, seem to think that God-science courses believe a similar fallacy:
1. God
2. ?
3. The World!


The actual formula, as understood by those who foolishly practice the stuff, is:
1. God
2. Evolution
3. The World as it is.


Step one is irrelevant to the scientist. One can well argue that step one is false if step two is unaffected by step one, but how this belief disqualifies someone from college is a mystery to me.

Here's a case where I love lawyers.

John(classic) said...

There seems to me to be something ironic about a court deciding intelligent design is not science, while, up at Vancouver, scientists are working diligently to, well, er, intelligently design life.

Assuming that they succeed, we will have one live observation of the creation of life by intelligent design. Do we forbid mention of that in textbooks lest the little minds be led into heresy, er, umm, I mean, nonscientific thought.

brylin said...

While I, personally don't have a "dog in this fight," I am always suspicious about claims made by people that the fight is over.

So in this spirit of skepticism, I hope I won't be attacked personally for the following comments, which are intended to provoke further thought on this matter.

First, it seems to be agreed by all that the precedential value of this Dover PA case is limited in a legal sense. There will be no appeal and therefore no opportunity to create a circuit court precedent.

Second, consider that Dover,PA is about 20 miles south of Harrisburg, 50 miles north of Baltimore, and 90 miles west of Philadelphia, and therefore within the sphere of influence of the East Coast establishment.

Third, the really important case from a legal precedential standpoint is the one currently being heard in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Although it didn't receive anywhere near the publicity of the Dover case, consider what the Atlanta Journal Constitution said on December 16th about the oral arguments:

Federal appeals court judges gave a hostile reception Thursday to a lower court decision that ordered Cobb County to scrape off evolution disclaimer stickers from almost 35,000 science textbooks.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is not expected to rule until next year, but the three judges' skeptical questioning indicated they may be poised to side with the Cobb school board in the now-famous sticker case. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper found that the stickers, which say evolution is a "theory, not a fact," improperly endorsed religion.

Judge Ed Carnes, who dominated the questioning, said the three-sentence disclaimer seemed to him to be "literally accurate."

Every time the U.S. Supreme Court has discussed evolution, the court called it a theory, Carnes noted. "I don't think y'all can contest any of the sentences," he told a lawyer who argued the case for parents who filed suit against the stickers. Carnes, an appointee of the elder President George Bush, said he was hard-pressed to see how a finding could be made that the sticker is an endorsement of religion.


And consider if the 11th Circuit rules in accord with the tone of the oral argument, in terms of persuasive value, whether a Court of Appeals opinion is more persuasive than a District Court opinion.

Fourth, note that in November, the Kansas State Board of Education approved new public school science standards that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

In summary, these facts are presented to support my opinion that what is likely to happen is that there will be a need for the Supreme Court to address this question as some time in the near future. I think there will be a conflict between the circuits on this issue, but because the Dover case will not be appealed, the prevailing law at the appellate level will support the questioning of evolutionary theory. Of course, I've been wrong before, and I've even been called a moron on this blog before. But ignore the 11th Circuit case and the Kansas State Board of Education ruling at your peril.

Pooh said...

Pogo,

They aren't totally wrong. If I can borrow your framerwork...

1. Evolution
2. (Gap in theory)
3. Therefore GOD!


Anything that makes not knowing somehow 'virtuous' makes me skeptical.

John(classic) said...

The Cobb County stickers say:
"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.

AlaskaJack said...

Brylin, I think you're on to something.

J. Jones' opinion can easily be read as holding that a public school policy that permits any criticism of the theroy of evolution is an endorsement of religion. Appellate judges who read this opinion, and many will even though the decision is not going to be appealed, will be predisposed to put an end to this kind of silliness the first chance they get.

And consider this bit of reasoning from J. Jones: "Finally and notably, the newsletter all but admits that ID is religious by quoting Anthony Flew, described as a 'world famous atheist who now believes in intelligent design' as follows: 'My whole life has been quided by the principle of Plato's Socrates: Follow the evidence where it leads.'"

Presumably, J. Jones' imaginary but omniscient "reasonable observer", who regularly darts in and out of in his opinion pronouncing what is true and what is false, has discovered that those venerable religious figures from the ancient past, Rabbi Socrates and Pope Plato the First, have had a great influence on Professor Flew.

Ross said...

The Cobb County stickers are literally true. I hope to run a slate of school board candidates on a platform of adding stickers that assert "Gravity is a theory, not a fact. etc. etc."

In history classes, do we read statements explaining the notion of solipsism, and point to texts that explain how the past may not exist at all?

In English classes, do we read statements explaining that some theories hold that no two minds perceive the world in precisely the same way, and thus true communication is an impossibility?

In P.E. classes, do we read statements explaining that, per some theories, the body is an empty vessel and only the mind is real?

Certain Christians and biology ... I just don't get it.

brylin said...

James Q. Wilson writes on the definition of "theory" and how it applies to evolution but not to intelligent design.

This article and the Judge Jones opinion reflect a Republican fault line where the other side is the religious right.

brylin said...

Here is the full Judge Jones opinion in pdf format in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

The Private intellectual. said...

Look at the whole evolution and intelligent design from another angle, one which combines evoilution and intelligent design and might make both plausible ...

Pi.

brylin said...

In response to Kitzmiller, Cal Thomas says:

Religious parents should ... remove their children from state schools with their "instruction manuals" for turning them into secular liberals, and place them in private schools - or home school them - where they will be taught the truth, according to their parents' beliefs.

brylin said...

John McCain says: "Let the student decide." Sounds like he supports intelligent design.

But Rick Santorum has switched his position to agree with Judge Jones.

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