21 December 2005

On your mark, get set, lie (some more)

I once heard somewhere or another that the hardest thing to do in sports is to walk into the locker room at halftime during the Superbowl and change the strategy that got you there because it isn't working anymore. I think the fine folks at the Discovery Institute might be seeing the truth in that right about now. Their strategy of trying to pretend that ID is science was seen for what it is - a sham - by a Federal judge yesterday.

After a couple of initial missteps (such as being the first to meet the judge's prediction that his opponents would call him an "activist judge" because of the decision) the pro-IDers seem to be starting to settle on a talking point. This one is honest, yes, honest as the day is long. Or at least is was yesterday. In Alaska. Northern Alaska. And I'd like to take this opportunity to wish all my pagan friends a very slightly belated happy Solstice.

Sorry. I just had to get that one out of my system.

Now where was I...ah, yes. With the same commitment to the principles of truth, honesty, and forthrightness that they have displayed to date, the proponents of Intelligent Design have decided to claim that the judge ruled that ID is unscientific because many of its proponents have religious beliefs that are supported by Intelligent Design.

I'm not going to try to place these in any sort of chronological order, but here's what a number of pro-IDers have said on the topic:
From Angus Menuge:
My main concerns are that Judge Jones uses throughout an argument from motive of the form:
*(P1) Person A has a religious motive in proposing educational policy P
(C) P is a religious policy, and so allowing P in the public schools would be an establishment of religion.

David Klinghoffer at National Review Online:
Tuesday's ruling by a federal judge in Pennsylvania, disparaging intelligent design as a religion-based and therefore false science, raises an important question: If ID is bogus because many of its theorists have religious beliefs to which the controversial critique of Darwinism lends support, then what should we say about Darwinism itself?

Lawrence Selden:
Are you kidding me? You cannot treat macroevolutionary theory as a theory because that is consistent with what religious people think?

John Mark Reynolds:
Once again a court has decided that religious motivations of supporters are enough to ban an idea (that is not essentially religious) from tax payer funded schools.

Jonathan Witt:
No. Design theorists argue that an intelligent cause is the best explanation for certain features of the natural world. Jones countered this point by noting that most design theorists believe in the Christian God, untroubled by the fact that he is here committing the genetic fallacy, dismissing an argument based on its source (here Christian scientists and philosophers). Commented one legal scholar, "It is worse than horrible, if that is possible. Essentially, what the judge has concluded is that if one is a religious citizen who offers an argument for a point of view consistent with your religious worldview, you will be segregated from the public square. But not because your argument is bad, but because of your beliefs and the company you keep or may have kept. I can't believe this could happen in America."
(Witt attributes the quote to a "legal scholar" without naming names, and a Google on the passage brings up no hits, so I am unclear as to whether or not the scholar in question exists as an independent entity or is merely Witt inflating his own credentials.)

That's just a quick sampling. Others have made that argument, and there have also been some posts that have responded to this, at least in part. (For example, Timothy Sandefur and Brian Leiter both touch on the issue.)

I have to wonder whether these folks read the same decision I did. If they did, they either did not understand it or they understood it but decided to misrepresent it. I will leave it to the reader to determine whether the ID proponents are being incompetent or dishonest this time.

The court spent a great deal of time in the decision explaining the "reasonable observer" standard that would be used to evaluate the conduct in this case. This standard, according to the judge,
...consists of the reviewing court determining what message a challenged governmental policy or enactment conveys to a reasonable, objective observer who knows the policy’s language, origins, and legislative history, as well as the history of the community and the broader socialand historical context in which the policy arose. McCreary County, Ky. v. ACLU, 125 S. Ct. 2722, 2736-37, 2005 U.S. LEXIS 5211 at *41 (2005) (objective observer “presumed to be familiar with the history of the government’s actions and competent to learn what history has to show”); Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 308 (objective observer familiar with “implementation of” governmental action); Selman, 390 F. Supp. 2d at 1306 (objective observer “familiar with the origins and context of the government-sponsored message at issue and the history of the community where the message is displayed”).

A reasonable observer in this case would know a number of things about the Intelligent Design Movement. One of the things that they would know is, of course, that the IDers claim that their position is science, not religion. However, any objective observer willing to look even slightly beyond those claims would know that the leaders of the ID Movement spend a lot more time talking to religious groups about how wonderful ID is than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the IDers spend more time denigrating evolution than they do conducting scientific research. They would know that the leading ID proponents spend more time lobbying school boards than they do doing scientific research. In short, an objective observer would reach the same conclusion as the judge: the ID proponents don't want evolution taught well because of their religious objections to evolution, and the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is just a sham to try to slip by the Constitution.

Judge Jones concluded, rightly, that Intelligent Design is not science. The religious motivations of ID proponents were only one of many pieces of evidence leading to that conclusion. The most compelling evidence for this conclusion is actually totally unrelated to the motivations, religious or otherwise, of ID proponents: the ID people, according to the testimony of pro-ID defense witnesses, haven't done science. They have not been able to devise or conduct any experiment that would be a positive test of Intelligent Design. That is why ID is not science. The motivations of the ID proponents explain why they are pushing their nonscientific nonsense into public school classrooms.
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