Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Judge Selects Against Intelligent Design, Naturally

[A two-part post]

Part I

Religious conservatives took a tough blow to their agenda of rolling back the Enlightenment today. U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "Intelligent Design" in place of evolution in the biology classroom violated the Constitutional separation of church and state.

From RedOrbit:

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John Jones dealt a blow to U.S. Christian conservatives who have been pressing for the teaching of creationism in schools and who played a significant role in the re-election of President George W. Bush

"Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a public school classroom," Jones wrote in a 139-page opinion.

No big surprise, really, as this case is merely a stepping stone towards the U.S. Supreme Court for the religious fundamentalists pushing "Intelligent Design". "Intelligent Design" is nothing more than Biblical Creationism re-packaged to be more palatable to the U.S. judicial system and it appears at, least initially, to have failed in that capacity. Judge Jones clearly saw through this pseudo-scientific facade and struck down this latest attempt to institutionalize conservative Christianity in U.S. public life.

Unfortunately, the proponents of "Intelligent Design" have only just begun their work tearing down the wall between the conservative Evangelical Christian church and the state:

The six-week Harrisburg trial, one of the highest-profile court cases on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial, was closely watched in at least 30 states where Christian conservatives are planning similar initiatives.

[Emphasis mine]

What an embarrassment this whole issue is to the United States' reputation as a member of the world's scientific community! It's pathetic enough that so many religious fundamentalists in the United States cannot tell the difference between science and faith themselves, but their unflagging efforts to institutionalize their ignorance for our children is making the entire country a laughingstock and threatens the quality of our educational system. Our children deserve better and, fortunately, both Judge Jones and the voters of Dover, PA recognize this.

Part II

Reading the article from Reuters referenced in Part I above, I was continually frustrated by the loaded language used to talk about this issue. It's the lack of good reporting on science in general and evolution in particular that helps fuel this phony debate.

For example:

The school district was sued by a group of 11 parents who claimed teaching intelligent design was unconstitutional and unscientific and had no place in high school biology classrooms.

[Emphasis mine]

I recognize that the reporter is trying to be objective here, but there is no objective way to draw equivalence between science and religion as methods for explaining the natural world. Using the verb "claimed" makes it sound as though both sides of the debate carry equal weight, and they certainly don't. This appearance of parity continues to fuel the public debate on this issue.


Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they must have been the work of an unnamed creator rather than the result of random natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution.

[Emphasis mine]

This is an unfortunate example of how poor science reporting helps feed this controversy. Natural selection is not a "random" process. Quite the opposite, in fact. It very specifically explains how any given species either procreates or becomes extinct based on its adaptive qualities. Labeling natural selection as random as a way to contrast against the "unnamed creator" gives the impression of evolution as a purpose-driven process, which it is not. "Intelligent Design" gains it's rhetorical traction once this misunderstanding occurs by attempting to define a more "human" conceptualization of the driver behind the purpose. Put another way, it attempts to generate a more familiar spiritual tie between the natural world and human spirituality with the appearance of scientific reason. Such is not the case, in reality, but the error in perception remains.

Further, Darwin did not "argue" the theory of evolution or its corollaries. He created a reasoned hypothesis and then tested it to generate a theory. By saying he "argued" "his" theory of evolution again implies some sort of parity between "Intelligent Design" and the theory of evolution. One is a bedrock theory of science and the other is poor theology at best. There is no parity and, thus, should be no debate.


In a fierce attack on the Dover board - all but one of whom have now been ousted by voters -- the judge condemned the "breathtaking inanity" of its policy."

[Emphasis mine]

This is a minor bone of contention but saying that the judge "attacked" the former members of the Dover school board seems like a very weighted choice of words. An attack implies some kind of aggressive intent, as though the judge was taking some sort of political or philosophical position rather than engaging this issue on its Constitutional merits. It seems to paint these school board members as some poor unfortunates being trampled on by the legal system, rather than as the theocratic fundamentalists that their actions and words describe. Plain and simply, these men and women were only too willing to put their ideological beliefs ahead of the education of their students, at great cost to the school district, and they deserve to be severely chastised for it. Fortunately, the voters of Dover largely took care of that problem but, as stated in Part I above, there are 30 states worth of similar like-minded religious literalists waiting for their chance to erode one of our nation's most important safeguards.

Perhaps I'm being too critical of the article or reading more bias into it than is actually there. It's no secret to anyone that the state of scientific reporting in our country is sorely lacking. Plus, I understand that controversy sells. So I don't mean this as a sharp attack against Jon Hurdle of Reuters. It just seems that more accurate and informed reporting on the science of this issue would go a great distance in defusing the phony debate. Evolution is possibly the most thoroughly tested and supported theory in all of science, while "Intelligent Design" is nothing but political rhetoric wrapped in a faith-based veneer to give it legitimacy. There is no reason any media outlet should be granting this bastardized version of Biblical Creationism the same gravitas as a proven scientific theory.

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