On Tuesday Judge John Jones III released a landmark 139-page decision, which finds that the Dover school board violated the Establishment Clause by endorsing intelligent design. Why is that a setback for science? Because I spent hours reading the decision instead of doing actual work, and so should everyone else.
In a case like this, of course, it’s not science that’s on trial but the legal system itself. Can it distinguish a real idea from a sham, in the same way that a FOCS program committee would reject a paper claiming Grover search in O(log N) queries, no matter how well-written it was? This time, the system came through. Judge Jones — despite being a Republican appointed by Bush — proved himself capable of the following insight:
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… (p. 80-81)
(Is one allowed to make that sort of argument in an official capacity? Strange thing, the Establishment Clause.)
But the section where Judge Jones rises from cogency to furious eloquence is the “Purpose Inquiry” (p. 90-132), where he shows that the Dover school board members were even bigger jokers than is directly inferrable from their decision. Here’s William Buckingham, Chair of the Curriculum Committee, at a June 14, 2004 school board meeting:
“Nowhere in the Constitution does it call for a separation of church and state … I challenge you [the audience] to trace your roots to the monkey you came from … 2,000 years ago someone died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” (p. 105)
(For readers who don’t “grok” this allusion: while many people were crucified by the Romans around that time, Buckingham is most likely referring to Jesus of Nazareth, a Galilean Jewish preacher postulated by many ID proponents to be related to, or even identical with, the intelligent designer of their theory.)
Here’s another gem:
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.” … Burning the evolutionary mural was apparently insufficient for Buckingham, however. Instead, he demanded that the teachers agree that there would never again be a mural depicting evolution in any of the classrooms and in exchange, Buckingham would agree to support the purchase of the biology textbook in need by the students. (Judge Jones’s emphasis; p. 108)
The school board members took up a collection at a church to pay for the creationist book Of Pandas and People, then lied about it under oath (p. 114-115). They also testified at the trial that they didn’t understand the substance of the curriculum change that, over the science teachers’ objections, they voted for (p. 121). In short, the plaintiffs couldn’t have asked for better allies.
Admittedly, to anyone who’s ever attended an American school board meeting, the Dover shenanigans won’t come as much surprise. Mark Twain, as often, said it best:
“First God created idiots, this was for practice. Then He made School Boards.”
Part II of this post will appear after I’ve returned to Pennsylvania (“The Genius School Board State”) later “today,” having completed my trip around the globe and gained a 2πi phase in the process. Hey — judging from the number of comments on my previous evolution post, you people seem to like this issue. In a blogosphere with finitely many readers, only the fittest topics will survive.