30 December 2005

Desparate, pathetic, and disgusting - DI's West on Judge Jones

John West of the Discovery Institute has been critiquing Judge Jones' decision in the Dover ID lawsuit over at the DI Media Complaints Division blog. I haven't, for the most part, addressed these posts, since other Pandas' Thumb regulars have more relevant expertise and have been doing a better job at it than I could. His latest post, however, is so far from the bounds of decency and civility that I can't leave it be. One part in particular, mentioned in passing by PvM in another PT post, hits a new low. In a relatively short passage, West manages to combine a gratuitous personal attack with a view of both what it should mean to be a conservative and on what a lawyer should be proud of that is twisted beyond all recognition.

Here's the passage:
In addition, Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty:
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy. It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case... I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.

In a sick and twisted sort of way, I almost admire West. He must have put a hell of a lot of time into learning how to be a slippery, lying, son-of-a--. Unless the man was born without a shred of human decency, he would have had to learn how to override those instincts, and that's (fortunately) not something that just anyone is capable of.

For those who haven't figured out exactly where the lie is in that excerpt, I'll highlight it in boldface and mark it with ** at the start and end of the suspect area:
He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case**...** I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
What a surprise, the lie is in the ellipsis.

What West did was to selectively omit material, resulting in a passage that looks like it means something a bit different from what the author actually said. Remember, West's take on the quote is that it demonstrates that, "Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives' attitudes toward crime and punishment." The quote is placed in support of that statement, and is clearly intended to imply that Jones was proud of what he did because of his views on crime and punishment. If the quote is examined in context, however, it paints a slightly different question. Let's start by looking at the question that Jones was answering:
Senator Cantwell. Without objection.
I have one last question for actually all of you, a panel question. Some of our most beloved judges in history have been judges who made decisions that were against popular sentiment, or stood up to protect the rights of minorities or people's whose views made them outcasts.

Can you tell me of an instance in your career where you have stood up, took an unpopular stand, or fought for something, maybe a client, and how you stood up to those pressures?
If nothing else, this indicates that Jones was not responding to a question about his views on punishment in general or on the death penalty in particular. Now, let's look at his whole response, not just the part that paints the picture that West wants people to see. I'll use boldface to indicate the material quoted by West, and I will use italics to indicate the material that is contained within West's ellipsis.
I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy.

It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case.


But I learned perhaps more than anything else that I ever did as an attorney about the obligation that we have as attorneys to take on occasionally unpopular cases, and that at that time was the most unpopular case that I could possibly have chosen to have undertaken. And so that stands out amongst all the cases that I ever handled, or matters that I have handled as the most unpopular, but I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.
Wow. Is it just me, or does the material that West cut from the passage change the meaning just a mite? Jones' isn't saying that he's proud that he kept the guy off of death row, he's saying that he was proud to take on an unpopular case because that was his duty as a public defender.

And it was his duty, and he should be proud of that. This country was not founded with the sort of "fry 'em all and let God sort it out mentality" that seems to be promoted by some these days. The founders of this country deliberately decided to use a justice system based on an assumption of innocence, and to make sure that anyone accused of a crime was entitled to a proper defense. Supporting that powerful principle should not be a mark of "liberalism," or indicate that someone doesn't have the "right" view of crime and punishment. Supporting the right of anyone accused of a crime to an adequate defense should be - is - an American Value.

A lawyer who is providing the defense for an accused criminal has the same obligation to the client whether he or she was hired by the accused or assigned the case as a public defender. That obligation is simple and clear: the lawyer must defend the client to the best of their abilities. Nothing less should be acceptable.

John West has become so desparate for ammunition to use to attack the decision and the judge that he is apparently willing to resort to dishonesty and false witness. In this case, he has overstepped the bounds of human decency. He has tried to take a lawyer's account of doing the right thing for a client - a lawyer demonstrating the ideals of the American justice system - and twist it into a "soft on crime" attack.

If West has any remaining hint of human decency, he will apologize and retract that portion of his attack. If he has something that serves as an occasional substitute for human decency, he will at least clarify his post to show why Jones was proud of what he did. I'm not holding my breath waiting for either.

Evolution in Action

As I mentioned before, Science named evolution as the breakthrough of the year for 2005. There is a good video presentation on the discoveries available on the journal's website. It's definitely worth a look.

29 December 2005

Another round with Krauze

Krauze has replied to my last post in our continuing discussion of some of the finer points of the definition of science used by Judge Jones in the Dover decision. If you haven't been following the discussion so far, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out what's going on. If you want to go back and look at the earlier posts, I linked to all of them in my previous reply.

The series of posts has gotten to be a bit on the long side, and I don't think we've covered too much ground, mostly (I think) because we're talking past each other just a bit. I'll try again to clear up where I think the biggest areas of confusion lie.

Let's start with the passage from the decision that's at the center of our little debate:
We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research. (Decision, p.64)

I think it's reasonable to say that the core of the original dispute stems from the difference between Krauze's opinion that it is unreasonable to exclude the supernatural from science versus my own belief that the judge acted entirely reasonably. The most recent posts in this debate center, at least for me, around the reasons for the exclusion of the supernatural from science.

Before I get into that in more detail, I'm going to address a criticism Krauze raises in his latest reply. Krauze points out that the designer is not necessarily supernatural, but could be some sort of extraterrestrial being. That's certainly a point worth raising. After all, if ID doesn't actually require a supernatural designer, then the whole question might be moot. The judge considered, and discarded, that possibility. I think he made the right call:
Although proponents of the IDM occasionally suggest that the designer could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell biologist, no serious alternative to God as the designer has been proposed by members of the IDM, including Defendants’ expert witnesses. (20:102-03 (Behe)). In fact, an explicit concession that the intelligent designer works outside the laws of nature and science and a direct reference to religion is Pandas’ rhetorical statement, “what kind of intelligent agent was it [the designer]” and answer: “On its own science cannot answer this question. It must leave it to religion and philosophy.” (P-11 at 7; 9:13-14 (Haught)). (Decision, pp.25-6)
It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that ID requires a supernatural explanation, particularly for the judge, when all three of the defense expert witnesses said that it does:
Defendants’ expert witness ID proponents confirmed that the existence of a supernatural designer is a hallmark of ID. First, Professor Behe has written that by ID he means “not designed by the laws of nature,” and that it is “implausible that the designer is a natural entity.” (P-647 at 193; P-718 at 696, 700). Second, Professor Minnich testified that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened so that supernatural forces can be considered. (38:97 (Minnich)). Third, Professor Steven William Fuller testified that it is ID’s project to change the ground rules of science to include the supernatural. (Trial Tr. vol. 28, Fuller Test., 20-24, Oct. 24, 2005). Decision, pp.29-30


Moving on, Krauze seems to misunderstand one of the main points that I was trying to make last post:
For TQA, Jones was simply concerned about testability, and supernatural concepts are characterized by a lack of testability.
I do not think that the supernatural is arbitrarily excluded from science. I believe that supernatural explanations are excluded from science primarily because they are not testable. [...].
At this point, however, I sense that TQA is simply substituting his own view of things for that of Judge Jones. Consider the text of the ruling:
We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; [...]As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.
Does anyone reading this come away with the conclusion that the last part of the “additionally important” factiods is really the justification for item number one on Judge Jones’ laundry list of “levels”? Indeed, how can supernaturalness by itself be “sufficient” to rule that intelligent design is unscientific, independent of the criterion that supposedly provides its justification?
([...] indicates material I've trimmed from the quotes due to length concerns.)

When I raised those points about testability and the supernatural, I was not trying to substitute my own reasoning for that of the judge. I was attempting to explain why there is a "centuries-old ground rule" against invoking the supernatural in science. To put it as plainly and simply as possible, nobody has been able to conduct an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it," nobody has been able to design an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it," and nobody has been able to conceive of an empirical test for the hypothesis that "God did it."

This line of reasoning was available to the judge when he wrote his opinion. Two different experts testified on this during the plaintiff's case. You can find it in Ken Miller's testimony and in Robert Pennock's testimony.

Noting as an "additionally important" fact the lack of positive tests of ID is also relevant. This does not simply restate the untestable nature of supernatural causes; it also provides a strong indication that ID proponents have not been successful in their attempts at overcoming this limitation. To put it another way, in the absence of a method of positively testing for a supernatural cause, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to reassess the "centuries-old ground rules of science."

In an attempt to move the discussion into more pragmatic grounds, Krauze presents me with a hypothetical:
Let’s say that Dr. Smith has formulated a hypothesis about intelligent design that causes him to form some quite specific expectations, and which he now intends to test. To get his experiment funded, he sends an application to the National Science Foundation (NSF), a federal agency that funds a considerable amount of research. Imagine, then, the reply:

“Your proposal sounds interesting, and we would like to fund your research. However, you cannot make the link to intelligent design explicit when you publish the results. The NSF only supports scientific research, and as a judge in Dover recently found, intelligent design is inherently unscientific.”

I tried to put a little effort into answering this, but, to put it bluntly, I don't find it to be either interesting or realistic. Yes, I think that such a demand from the NSF would be unreasonable, and I think that a scientist in such a situation should strenuously object. I also think that I'll carry an open umbrella with me at all times outdoors if pigs learn how to fly. In both cases, there's something really, really big between the hypothetical that has been posed and current reality.

If you want me to seriously question whether excluding the supernatural is a good ground rule, you are going to need to give me a real reason to reconsider the situation. Come up with a remotely reasonable test, and I'll get interested quick. Until you have that, all of these complaints about how unfair it is to exclude these things are nothing more than sour grapes.

28 December 2005

A little silly

Grumpy? Cynical? Me?

Badger
What Is Your Animal Personality?

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26 December 2005

More follow-up on naturalism versus supernaturalism

It would appear that I've wound up in an open and vigorous exchange of views with Krauze on the topic of supernaturalism as it relates to Judge Jones' decision on the Intelligent Design issue.

Here's the sequence of posts, if anyone wants to review earlier events:
I started with a post about misrepresentation of the decision by ID proponents.
Krauze pointed out that I had failed to discuss the judge's comments on the supernatural nature of ID.
I attempted to clarify my position on supernaturalism.
Krauze has responded to my response.
The remainder of this post constitutes my response to his response to my response to his response to my initial post. We're a very responsible pair. (Bonus points to anyone outside my immediate family who figures out what movie I'm watching right now.)

Actually, I think these chains of responses can be good, and not just because they let me toss out incredibly weak pop-culture references. For starters, they let you see where the differences of opinion really sit, and where the differences really seem to be more the result of people just talking at cross-purposes to one another. In this case, I think we might be talking past each other more than anything else.

Krauze writes:
TQA raises an interesting point. You see, the reaction he describes as stubborn and unpragmatic [discarding a specific positively tested ID hypothesis because it is supernaturalistic] is actually the one that Judge Jones’ ruling would have us choose. Remember that any one of the items on Jones’ laundry list was by itself sufficient to declare intelligent design unscientific. So in the hypothetical situation that TQA describes, Judge Jones would still demand that we label intelligent design as an unscientific conjecture, “pragmatic grounds” be damned.

Let me see if I can be a bit clearer in response to this than I was last time. I do not think that the supernatural is arbitrarily excluded from science. I believe that supernatural explanations are excluded from science primarily because they are not testable. To the best of our knowledge, based on a long history of scientific investigation, it is quite simply not possible to scientifically test for supernatural causation.

For the moment, I think that the supernatural nature of ID represents perfectly reasonable grounds for ruling it unscientific. It's a fairly quick test to apply, it doesn't seem to yield ambiguous results, and it has very worked well so far. However, things can change, if only in theory. I do not believe that any of the ID proponents will be able to devise a positive test for Intelligent Design. If a positive test is devised, I think that a reasonable argument could be made that ID is no longer a supernatural explanation. But if a positive test is devised for design and if design is still felt by most to be a supernatural explanation, then (and only then) I think it would be reasonable to revisit the question of whether or not supernatural explanations should be excluded from science.

Krauze either misunderstood me the first time, or he thinks that this indicates that I have reservations about the decision:
What is interesting is that the Dover ruling has been touted as a huge victory for reason and science, and less than a week after, we find TQA - a scientist by his own testimony - having to distance himself from the logic of the court’s findings.
I am not in any way distancing myself from the logic in the decision. I merely acknowledge that there is a possibility - a very slim possibility - that at some point in time in the future the ID proponents might be able to come up with a discovery that would invalidate some of the reasoning. Of course, a great deal would have to happen before that point is reached. Not least, the ID folks need to do science.

A follow-up to my Christmas Wish post

I posted a very brief message late Christmas Eve. The message consisted of three words ("Dona nobis pacem"), linked to the Iraq casualties page. There are only two responses to this message on the blog, both from my brothers. Off the blog, I have received a few more responses sent via email. These were much less pleasant.

That one post was apparently enough to brand me a "trator" in the eyes of some. Suggesting that there is a real reason to wish for peace makes me a coward, willing to "sell out our brave troops to score a petty little political point." Wow. I had no idea that hoping that people stop dying is an act of such cowardice.

I suppose I'd better apologize to my wife, my brother Ben, my brother-in-law Ricky, every household in my neighborhood, and countless other people I know for "selling out." Guys, I'm real sorry that I dared to publicly wish that you won't need to put your lives on the line in a combat zone during the new year.

People who think that wishing for peace sells out the troops are probably the single greatest argument I can think of in favor of restoring the draft, because those people are almost definitely the ones who don't know anyone in the service.

I'm sure that they haven't had to deal with the knowledge that someone in a loved one's unit has died, and notifications will be taking place shortly. I'm sure that they haven't had to remember that on a day like that you make sure to phone your next door neighbor before going over, just to make sure that they aren't startled by your knock. (The casualty notifications come as a knock without prior warning.) I'm sure that they haven't felt the blessed mixture of relief and guilt when their prayers that it was someone else's loved one are answered.

Wishing for peace is not a sign of fear or weakness. Wishing for peace is simply a symptom of humanity.