Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Reactions to the Dover decision

I've been sick that last couple of days, and while I've been laying on the couch drinking Theraflu I've been making the rounds on the web looking for reactions to the Dover decision. I came across an article written by Phyllis Schlafly, the president and founder of the Eagle Forum. In this column from Townhall.com titled "False judge makes mockery of case for 'intelligent design'" she gives her point of view about Judge Jones. Her article is discussed at Red State Rabble (posted on January 3rd) and at Evolutionblog. Both are worth reading.

Schlafly begins her article like this:
"Judge John E. Jones III could still be chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board if millions of evangelical Christians had not pulled the lever for George W. Bush in 2000. Yet this federal judge, who owes his position entirely to those voters and the president who appointed him, stuck the knife in the backs of those who brought him to the dance in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District."

As Red State Rabble points out, it's darkly amusing that Schlafly is complaining about activist judges (i.e., judges that render decisions based on their personal feelings rather than based on legal precedents), when she wanted Jones to behave in exactly that way - she wanted him to rule based on some perceived loyalty instead of the law. I'm not the first to write it, but comments like that make me think that people like Schlafly classify judges as "activist judges" not when they "legislate from the bench", but when those judges render a decision that they don't like.

I also don't like Schlafly's insinuation that Jones betrayed evangelical Christians by ruling against intelligent design. This mentality has been around for a long time - it's standard creationist fare: people who call themselves Christians, but who don't consider creationism/intelligent design valid aren't really Christians.

"Contrary to most media coverage, the Dover case was not about whether Darwin's theory of evolution, as set forth in "The Origin of the Species," or the theory of "intelligent design" is correct or should be taught. The Dover school board did not propose to say intelligent design is scientific or valid, or even to decrease its teaching of evolution."

If this is the case I wonder why the defendants had people like Michael Behe and Scott Minnich testify? If the Dover area school board didn't think ID was "scientific or valid" then why were they referring students to it? I suppose Schlafly is right that at least some board members who endorsed ID "did not propose to say intelligent design is scientific or valid", but that's because they didn't even know what ID was.

From pages 121-122 of Jones' ruling:

“In fact, one unfortunate theme in this case is the striking ignorance concerning the concept of ID amongst Board members. Conspicuously, Board members who voted for the curriculum change testified at trial that they had utterly
no grasp of ID. To illustrate, consider that Geesey testified she did not understand the substance of the curriculum change, yet she voted for it. Moreover, as she indicated on multiple occasions, in voting for the curriculum change, Geesy deferred completely to Bonsell and Buckingham. Second, Buckingham, Chair of the Curriculum Committee at the time, admitted
that he had no basis to know whether ID amounted to good science as of the time of his first deposition, which was two and a half months after the ID Policy was approved, yet he voted for the curriculum change.
Third, Cleaver voted for the curriculum change despite the teachers’ objections, based upon assurances from Bonsell. Cleaver admittedly knew nothing about ID, including the words comprising the phrase, as she consistently referred to ID as “intelligence design” throughout her testimony. In addition, Cleaver was bereft of any understanding of Pandas except that Spahr had said it was not a good science book which should not be used in high school. In addition, Superintendent Nilsen’s entire understanding of ID was that “evolution has a design.””
(references removed)

Schlafly continues:
"Jones said that ninth-graders were referred to (although not assigned) a book called "Of Pandas and People" by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon ($24.95; 1993) published by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, "a religious, Christian organization." Using guilt-by-association reasoning, he implied that books published by religious groups, or by people motivated by religious convictions, can and should be banned from public school."

The "guilt-by-association reasoning" claim is flatly false. From page 32 of Jones' ruling:

“As Plaintiffs meticulously and effectively presented to the Court, Pandas went through many drafts, several of which were completed prior to and some after the Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards, which held that the Constitution forbids teaching creationism as science. By comparing the pre and post Edwards drafts of Pandas, three astonishing points emerge: (1) the definition for creation science in early drafts is identical to the definition of ID; (2) cognates of the word creation
(creationism and creationist), which appeared approximately 150 times were deliberately and systematically replaced with the phrase ID; and (3) the changes occurred shortly after the Supreme Court held that creation science is religious and
cannot be taught in public school science classes in Edwards. This word substitution is telling, significant, and reveals that a purposeful change of words was effected without any corresponding change in content, which directly refutes FTE’s argument that by merely disregarding the words “creation” and “creationism,” FTE expressly rejected creationism in Pandas.”

Schlafly continues:
"He lashed out at witnesses who expressed religious views different from his own, displaying a prejudice unworthy of our judiciary. He denigrated several officials because they "staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public.""

I commented on Schlafly use of tried and true creationist techniques above. This is another example; the out of context quote. Here's the paragraph from Jones' ruling that contains Schlafly's quote:

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. 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."

It's obvious Jones wasn't denigrating the board members because of their religious views. The board members were motivated to include ID by their religious beliefs (this is clear from the trial testimony)- they're also members of a religion (Christianity) that frowns on lying, and yet time and again board members (particularly Bonsell and Buckingham) lied. Under oath.

"The atheist evolutionists would not have made such a big case out of the four innocuous paragraphs ordered by the Dover school board unless they were pursuing an ideological cause. They converted the trial into a grand inquisition of religious beliefs instead of addressing science or the statement to be read to students."

This is just nonsense.

From page 89 of Jones' ruling:
“Accepting for the sake of argument its proponents’, as well as Defendants’ argument that to introduce ID to students will encourage critical thinking, it still has utterly no place in a science curriculum. Moreover, ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.
To conclude and reiterate, we express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation. However, we commend to the attention of those who are inclined to superficially consider ID to be a true “scientific” alternative to
evolution without a true understanding of the concept the foregoing detailed analysis. It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable
conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.”

Schlafly's insinuation that it was only "atheist evolutionists" who opposed the school board is just flat wrong. This is another classic creationist trick - the appeal to emotion. Schlafly's trying to get her readers fired up against those darn "atheist evolutionists" who are out to get religion. The only people who were motivated by religion were the pro-ID school board members, and they behaved in an absolutely despicable manner (including toward other Christians).

From pages 124-125:

“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.
However, it has become increasingly evident that it is the
direction the board has now chosen to go, holding a
certain religious belief is of paramount importance.”

Additionally, at the following meeting, Board member Wenrich, who opposed the expedited vote on October 18, 2004 and engaged in parliamentary measures to have the vote delayed until the community could properly debate the issue while considering the science teachers’ position, resigned and stated the following:

I was referred to as unpatriotic, and my religious beliefs
were questioned. I served in the U.S. Army for 11 years
and six years on the board. Seventeen years of my life
have been devoted to public service, and my religion is
personal. It’s between me, God, and my pastor.”

From pages 129-130:
“Moreover, Board members and teachers opposing the curriculum change and its implementation have been confronted directly. First, 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. Second, Angie Yingling was coerced into voting for the curriculum change by Board members accusing her of being an atheist and un- Christian. In addition, both Bryan Rehm and Fred Callahan have been confronted in similarly hostile ways, as have teachers in the DASD."
(references removed)

The religious beliefs of those opposed to ID shouldn't matter, but it is worth noting that it's not just atheists. The religious beliefs of those in favor of ID shouldn't matter either, unless they try to force those views on others, which is unequivocally what the Dover Area school board did. The behavior of the pro-ID school board members was disgraceful from start to finish, and I think this was clear to Dover voters too - all of the pro-ID members were voted out of office.

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