Sunday, June 24, 2007

Stupid remark of the month

I came across this quote at Evolution News and Views - the website of the Discovery Institute. It's about the Kitzmiller ruling.

Although there was general jubilation at the ruling, I think the joy will be short-lived, for we have affirmed the principle that a federal judge, not scientists or teachers, can dictate what is and what is not science, and what may or may not be taught in the classroom. Forgive me if I do not feel more free.

(J. Scott Turner, Signs of Design, The Christian Century, June 12, 2007.)

Turner, who according to the DI is a pro-evolution scientist, apparently have little understanding of US law and history, and have no understanding of what the trial was about.

This shouldn't surprise anyone who read his opinion piece in the January 19 2007 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, discussed at Recursivity here.

For the benefit of mr. Turner, I'll try to explain why his quote is so stupid.

In the US there is something called a constitution, which has a number of amendments to it. One of these admendments, the 1st in fact, deals with the subject of religion (among other things), and simply states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The important part of this amendment, in this case, is the very first part "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;".

Now, it is a pretty straightforward law at first glance, but when you think about it a little deeper, it isn't quite as straightforward. What does "an establishment of religion" actual mean - does it just mean that there can't be any state religions, as known from Europe and the Middel East, or does it go a little deeper than that?
Through numerous court cases, it has become clear that the Courts interpret it a little broader than the naive understanding, and take it to mean that government should stay out of religion all together, and not endorse one religious view over the other.

Since funding of religious teaching or religious programs can be seen as a kind of endorsement, the US Courts apply a specific test to such funding. This test, called the Lemon Test, is described in Wikipedia thus:

The Court's decision in this case established the "Lemon test", which details the requirements for legislation concerning religion. It consists of three prongs:

1. The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

If any of these 3 prongs is violated, the government's action is deemed unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Kitzmiller was a case where some parents brought the Dover School Board to court for violating the 1st amendment, by teaching religion disguised as science.
The court had to evaluate the evidence, as provided by the experts of both the neo-Creationists and the scientists, as to whether the teaching of intelligent design would violate the 1st amendment.

It can be argued whether a judge is qualified to establish if something is legitime science or not, but that's not what the judge needed to do in this case. Instead the judge had to establish whether intelligent design was religious in nature or not - a somewhat easier task, given the easily demonstrated historical ties to creationism (as seen when the different editions of the textbook was provided in court).
Then it needed to be demonstrated that intelligent design actually was scientific enough to be taught in spite of being religious in nature (the "legitimate secular purpose" part of the Lemon Test). Since this couldn't be demonstrated due to the lack of scientific content of intelligent design, the Judge John E. Jones III ruled that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional.

So, in other words, the Kitzmiller trial wasn't about dictating "what is and what is not science", but to establish whether teaching a specific pseudo-science was unconstitutional. Had intelligent design been scientific in nature, then it could have been established that there were legitimate secular purposes for teaching it, even if there are religious connection (whether it would have violated either of the other two prongs of the Lemon test is something we can only speculate about).

This is something US courts have done numerous times, for example in Edwards v. Aguillard, where the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach Creationism. In that ruling, it was made clear that critiques of exisiting scientific theories can't be taught - they just have to be taught with "the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction".

Now, back to the Kitzmiller trial - Judge Jones does write at rather great length about whether intelligent design is science in his ruling. This part of the ruling starts thus:

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. 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. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena. (9:19-22 (Haught); 5:25-29 (Pennock); 1:62 (Miller)). This revolution entailed the rejection of the appeal to authority, and by extension, revelation, in favor of empirical evidence. (5:28 (Pennock)). Since that time period, science has been a discipline in which testability, rather than any ecclesiastical authority or philosophical coherence, has been the measure of a scientific idea’s worth. (9:21-22 (Haught); 1:63 (Miller)). In deliberately omitting theological or “ultimate” explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world, science does not consider issues of “meaning” and “purpose” in the world. (9:21 (Haught); 1:64, 87 (Miller)). While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science. (3:103 (Miller); 9:19-20 (Haught)). This self-imposed convention of science, which limits inquiry to testable, natural explanations about the natural world, is referred to by philosophers as “methodological naturalism” and is sometimes known as the scientific method. (5:23, 29-30 (Pennock)). Methodological naturalism is a “ground rule” of science today which requires scientists to seek explanations in the world around us based upon what we can observe, test, replicate, and verify. (1:59-64, 2:41-43 (Miller); 5:8, 23-30 (Pennock)).

As the National Academy of Sciences (hereinafter “NAS”) was recognized by experts for both parties as the “most prestigious” scientific association in this country, we will accordingly cite to its opinion where appropriate. (1:94, 160-61 (Miller); 14:72 (Alters); 37:31 (Minnich)). NAS is in agreement that science is limited to empirical, observable and ultimately testable data: “Science is a particular way of knowing about the world. In science, explanations are restricted to those that can be inferred from the confirmable data – the results obtained through observations and experiments that can be substantiated by other scientists. Anything that can be observed or measured is amenable to scientific investigation. Explanations that cannot be based upon empirical evidence are not part of science.” (P-649 at 27).

This rigorous attachment to “natural” explanations is an essential attribute to science by definition and by convention. (1:63 (Miller); 5:29-31 (Pennock)). We are in agreement with Plaintiffs’ lead expert Dr. Miller, that from a practical perspective, attributing unsolved problems about nature to causes and forces that lie outside the natural world is a “science stopper.” (3:14-15 (Miller)). As Dr. Miller explained, once you attribute a cause to an untestable supernatural force, a proposition that cannot be disproven, there is no reason to continue seeking natural explanations as we have our answer.

Note something about this? It's not Judge Jones who is difining science - he bases his definition on the definition used by the scientific community. So again, while the judge does evaluate if intelligent design is science, he bases that evaluation on the definition by the scientists. In other words, it's the scientists who "dictate what is and what is not science", not the judge. For Turner to fail to understand this, shows how little understanding he has of law.

And not only does the Judge base his ruling of intelligent design not being science on the definitions oby the scientific community. He also bases it on the admissions by the intelligent design crowd themselves.

It is notable that defense experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. (28:26 (Fuller); 21:37-42 (Behe)). Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. (38:97 (Minnich)).

Prominent IDM leaders are in agreement with the opinions expressed by defense expert witnesses that the ground rules of science must be changed for ID to take hold and prosper. William Dembski, for instance, an IDM leader, proclaims that science is ruled by methodological naturalism and argues that this rule must be overturned if ID is to prosper. (5:32-37 (Pennock)); P-341 at 224 (“Indeed, entire fields of inquiry, including especially in the human sciences, will need to be rethought from the ground up in terms of intelligent design.”).

So not only doesn't the judge define what is and isn't science, be bases his evaluation of the scientific nature of intelligent design on the proponent's own words, which makes clear that it's not science. So in other words, both scientists and pseudo-scientists agree that it's not science.
Somehow, Judge Jones reaching the same conclusion as all involved parties doesn't seem to great a threath to freedom to me.

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Anonymous SLC said...

As Judge Jones has pointed out in several presentations he has given, both sides in the Kitzmiller case asked him to determine whether ID was science. The fact that his response was not to the liking of the Discovery Institute clowns is the reason for the smear campaign they have waged against him ever since the decision came out.

June 24, 2007 9:38 PM  

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