Dover trial revealed "intellectually unhealthy situation," says paper
The 2005 decision by Judge John E. Jones in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was celebrated by all red-blooded American liberals as a victory over the forces of darkness. The result was probably inevitable, in view of the reckless expression by some members of the Dover School Board of their desire to put religion into the classroom, and the clumsiness of their prescribed statement in trying to dissumulate that claim. But the conflicts aired in this trial -- over the status of evolutionary theory, the arguments for intelligent design, and the nature of science -- reveal an intellectually unhealthy situation. The political urge to defend science education against the threats of religious orthodoxy, understandable though it is, has resulted in a counterorthodoxy, supported by bad arguments, and a tendency to overstate the legitimate scientific claims of evolution theory. Skeptics about the theory are seen as so dangerous, and so disreputably motivated, that they must be denied any shred of legitimate interest.(pages 1-2 of pdf file)
I mostly agree. However, as for the "reckless expression by some members of the Dover School Board of their desire to put religion into the classroom, and the clumsiness of their prescribed statement in trying to dissumulate that claim," Albert Alschuler, a law professor emeritus at Northwestern University Law School, wrote,
The court offers convincing evidence that some members the Dover school board would have been delighted to promote their old time religion in the classroom. These board members apparently accepted intelligent design as a compromise, the nearest they could come to their objective within the law . . . . The court seems to declare, "Because we find that you would like something you can't have, we hold that you can't have anything."
That's not to say that the Dover school board did not make some big mistakes. The book "Of Pandas and People" was a very poor choice -- it was badly out of date and the words "intelligent design" and "intelligent design proponent" were substituted for "creationism" and "creationist" throughout the book in the publication of a new edition (of course, the Dover school board was unaware of this substitution of terms). Also, the "prescribed statement" that was read to the Dover science classes could have been worded better, and it was a bad idea to use the term "intelligent design" because the term implies the existence of a supernatural designer.
Thomas Nagel continues,
ID (as I shall call it, in conformity to current usage) is best interpreted not as an argument for the existence of God, but as a claim about what is reasonable to believe about biological evolution if one independently holds a belief in God that is consistent both with the empirical facts about nature that have been established by observation, and with the acceptance of general standards of scientific evidence. For legal reasons it is not presented that way by its defenders, but I think that is a mistake.(page 2 of pdf file)
I completely disagree with that interpretation -- it says that in the evolution controversy, ID is the only scientifically "reasonable" belief for those who believe in god. Also, though it is OK to consider the religious implications of ID, it should also be OK to ignore the religious implications of ID. I am a little interested in the religious implications of evolution and ID, but I am more interested in whether evolution and ID make sense from purely scientific standpoints. On the other hand, it seems that the Darwinists are only interested in the religious implications of ID -- they just keep asking questions like "who is the intelligent designer," "what does the intelligent designer look like," "who designed the intelligent designer," etc..
The contention seems to be that, although science can demonstrate the falsehood of the design hypothesis, no evidence against that demonstration can be regarded as scientific support for the hypothesis. Only the falsehood, and not the truth, of ID can count as a scientific claim. Something about the nature of the conclusion, that it involves the purposes of a supernatural being, rules it out as science. (page 3 of pdf file)
I suspect that the assumption that science can never provide evidence for the occurrence of something that cannot be scientifically explained is the principal reason for the belief that ID cannot be science; but so far as I can see, that assumption is without merit. (page 4 of pdf file).
One of the disturbing things about the public debate is that scientists engaged in it sometimes write as if the idea of fundamental problems with the theory [i.e., evolution theory] (as opposed to problems of detail in its application) were unthinkable, and that to entertain such doubts is like wondering whether the earth is flat. This seems to me, as an outsider, a vast underestimation of how much we do not know, and how much about the evolutionary process remains speculative and sketchy. (pages 4-5 of pdf file)
. . . both the inclusion of some mention of ID in a biology class and its exclusion would seem to depend on religious assumptions. Either divine intervention is ruled out in advance or it is not. If it is, ID can be disregarded. If it is not, evidence for ID can be considered. Yet both are clearly assumptions of a religious nature. Public schools in the United States may not teach atheism or deism any more than they may teach Christianity, so how can it be all right to teach scientific theories whose empirical confirmation depends on the assumption of one range of these views while it is impermissible to discuss the implications of alternative views on the same question?(page 14 of pdf file)
IMO, ideally the scientific teaching of evolution and its weaknesses should be done without regard to their religious implications, but it is practically inevitable that religious questions will be raised in science classes. At least the textbooks can avoid religious issues.
Even if evolution theory were an adequate explanation for the diversity of life, Intelligent Design would still be a possibility. Saying that ID is impossible says that the existence of a designer is impossible. Saying that the existence of a designer is impossible says that god is impossible. Saying that god is impossible violates the separation of church and state. Kitzmiller v. Dover says that ID is impossible, hence that god is impossible. Kitzmiller v. Dover therefore violates the separation of church and state. QED.
In order to teach about the history of the universe, the solar system, and life on earth it is indispensable to presuppose the falsity of fundamentalist epistemology. But the development of the theory of evolution did not depend on the assumption that design was impossible. On the contrary, it developed as an alternative to design, offering a surprising but illuminating account of how the appearance of design might have arisen without a designer. The conceivability of the design alternative is part of the background for understanding evolutionary theory. To make the assumption of its falsehood a condition of scientific rationality seems almost incoherent.(pages 14-15 of pdf file)
Good point. Intelligent Design makes a positive contribution to science by identifying biological systems that have the appearance of being designed, forcing scientists to try to explain how these systems that appear to be the products of design are actually the products of random mutations and natural selection. Another example: a lot of people have scoffed at my ideas about co-evolution (I have mostly called these ideas a "non-ID" criticism of evolution, though some of these ideas include ID), but my studies of co-evolution have definitely improved my knowledge and understanding of interspecies relationships (I have several articles about co-evolution in the two "Non-ID criticisms of evolution" post-label groups listed in the sidebar of this blog). Suppressing scientific and -- yes -- even pseudoscientific criticisms of evolution is anti-science and anti-intellectual.
Judge Jones cited as a decisive reason for denying ID the status of science that Michael Behe, the chief scientific witness for the defense, acknowledged that the theory would be more plausible to someone who believed in God than to someone who did not. This is just common sense, however, and the opposite is just as true: evolutionary theory as a complete explanation for the development of life is more plausible to someone who does not believe in God than to someone who does.(page 15 of pdf file)