Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: No Contest
If you've been following the evolution versus intelligent design (ID) debate in the media, you've probably heard about the court case in Dover, PA. The school board there instituted a policy to inject ID language as a criticism of evolution into the 9th grade biology curriculum last year. Some parents sued the school board, asserting that ID is not a scientific alternative, but rather an attempt to sneak creationism back into science under a different name. The trial lasted 6 weeks through the end of September, all of October, and early November. Got a lot of free time? Check out the complete trial transcripts on the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) website here and the evolution information Talk.Origins Newsgroup Archive website here.
Today Judge Jones released his decision. If you want to read the entire 139-page document (in PDF), click here. To summarize; ID is a religious proposition, not science, certainly not a scientific alternative to evolution, and cannot be taught in US public schools due to that pesky Establishment clause in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. All around, a victory for the integrity of science and science education.
Since you probably won't go read the whole 139-page document, here is a direct quote of the conclusions that sums up why ID is a load of horse puckey:
From pages 136-138:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.
Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.
To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
I don't have much to add to the general celebrations on all the evolution blogs on the web, but here's a collection of links:
- The Panda's Thumb is the go-to site for the evolution "controversy." The've got several posts on the Dover decision. In particular this one has a bunch of information resources that was continually updated throughout the whole trial.
- Pharyngula is a blog run by PZ Myers, a practicing biologist who has little patience for creationist dishonesty. Check out his comparison of what the judge thought of the testimony of Michael Behe, one of the leading proponents of ID as a scientific theory, and how Dr. Behe himself viewed his own testimony.
- Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars blog has commentary on the decision with more excerpts from the document here and here. The killer just quotes don't stop! This judge was really on the ball.
- Of course, the Discovery Institute, the main organization pushing ID as science, released a press release about the decision. Of course, they make themselves look extremely silly by calling Judge Jones an "activist judge." The guy's a Bush appointee and is good friends with former PA governor and ex-Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge. Aren't activist judges supposed to be liberal? Oh, and scroll back up to the last paragraph in my direct quote from the Judge's decision. Judge Jones saw their predictable response coming.
One word of caution: although this is certainly a great victory for science, the forces behind ID are not going to go quitely into the night. Some folks will try to use this decision as a political wedge issue. ID is primarily about politics, spin, and deceiving the public, and they've been somewhat successful at it. Some people will likely try to take advantage of politcal backlash from the ire of religious conservatives. The Religious Right has always cast the evolution debate as "atheistic, immoral" science versus religion, knowing that many voters will vote for candidates who pledge to "protect" their religion from those evil "Darwinists." This is a false dichotomy and a complete distortion of reality.
The whole "debate" is really about science versus anti-science. Scienctific theories are accepted based on evidence gathered via repeated observation and experimentation. Thus, science can only be concerned with what can be repeatably and reliably tested against observations of reality. Religion, by definition, deals with things outside of observable reality, and therefore science has nothing to say about the existence or non-existence of the divine. It's a matter of faith. I and many other people are perfectly happy to continue to believe in God and accept the facts discovered by science. Evolutionary theory is no more atheistic or immoral than weather forcasting, particle physics, chemistry, or forensic science. In contrast, ID is every bit as scientific as astrology, fortune telling, and the Psychic Friends Network.
If you feel there is an inherent conflict between your religous beliefs and evolution, check out what this scientist and Christian has to say about it. You might be surprised.
Friday, December 16, 2005
Is There a War Against Christmas?
Hello all 1.5 of you still reading this blog! After a fall 2005 hiatus I'm back. Sorry to have been gone so long. With the holiday season upon us, I've stumbled onto a strange phenomenon that apparently I'd been ignorant of. On my wanderings through the Web and flipping past those 24-hour news channels on TV, I've heard mention of a war against Christmas. Some notable media personalities, such as Bill O'Reilly from Fox News, claim that there is a movement to drive Christmas out of the public square, as the first step in getting rid of Christianity and religion from public discourse in America. The first sign of this war is that department stores use "Happy Holidays" and "Seasons Greetings" in their displays instead of "Merry Chritsmas."
Naturally, this assertion perplexed me. I've seen no sign of the Christmas holiday being stifled. All the decorations, TV specials, and sales have been all over the place for the past month, with no indications that things have been put on hold. You can buy any kind of Christmas decoration you want at any department store in the country. Is it really an issue what's written on their signage when you can buy any Christmas icon you want in the store, and they're piping in Chritsmas music all day?
But maybe I just hadn't been paying attention. Perhaps I was an unwitting pawn in the "Struggle for Christmas" and didn't realize how bad things are. Sometimes I'm late picking up on current events. So I thought I'd ask my wife if she'd heard anything about this. This morning the conversation went something like this:
Me: "Honey, have you heard about the war against Christmas?"
Her: "No, what's that?"
Me: "Apparently people are saying there's a war against Christmas because some people want to force public displays to have messages like 'Happy Holidays' or 'Seasons Greetings' instead of 'Merry Christmas' and they're trying to get rid of overt mention of Christmas."
Her: "Well, I've never said 'Seasons Greetings' in my life!"
Me: "Yeah, but apprently some people think this is a big problem..."
Her: "Where'd you hear about this?"
Me: "I read a story on the Internet. I think it came from Bill O'Reilly."
Her: <Dismissively> "You can't trust anything *he* says. He's a jerk."
Well, I do have to agree with her sentiments. I find myself disagreeing with 90% of what Bill O'Reilly says. Anyway, my wife was just as oblivious as I was to the whole issue. However, I can't come to a conclusion by only asking one person (even if she is my lovely, intelligent wife) so I needed to do more research. Of course, I turned to the one place where all of the answers to life's great mysteries can be found (though they're usually wrong answers): Let's go Google! I typed in "war on christmas" into the search engine and got over 58 million hits. Whoa! Here's a sample:
- Media Matters Story - This has a debunking of Bill O'Reilly's thesis and quotes directly from his program when he interviewed John Gibson, author of The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. The statements O'Reilly and Gibson make seem pretty silly. And the conspiracy theory seems a bit over the top. However, a few of their anecdotes about removing public Christmas dispays are a bit chilling. I needed to look further.
- War On Christmas Fraud Exposed - Well, apparently (are you counting how many times I use the word "apparently" in this post?) this little anecdote was a complete distortion of the truth. This "War on Christmas" is looking a lot less credible. Still digging...
- A conservative journalist blogger is charting the "war" - She links to another blog charting the complicity of the US Post Office refusing to issue religous-themed Christmas stamps. We have conflicting reports, but it seems the Post Office is primarily concerned with selling all of its stamp inventory, not destroying Christmas. Is this the whole story? Let's look a little further...
- In a follow up post from that same blog, it looks like the USPS hasn't changed its policy it all, and will continue to issue religious-themed stamps. It just so happens there weren't any produced this year, but another stamp is planned for 2006. No big deal.
- Finally, I find this Salon.com article about the non-war on Christmas, and I've made up my mind. If you think Salon has a "liberal bias" go read the article anyway and check their sources if you think their reporting is inaccurate (you have to watch an advertisement first if you don't have a subscription to the website). Their conclusion: there are a few anecdotal cases of people trying to be ultra-politically correct and oversensitive by removing public Christmas displays, but it is far from a vast liberal conspiracy to reject Christmas. Ironically, the article asserts that some public officials may be spooked into overreacting by the media warning them that they'll be sued by the ACLU boogeymen, when in fact the ACLU has no agenda to force the removal of all public Christmas displays left and right. So this "war on Christmas" myth is a self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, according to the article, the "war on Christmas" is not a new phenomenon. In 1921, Henry Ford blamed Jews for trying to steal Christmas, and in 1959, the John Birch Society blamed Communists and the UN for ploting to undermine American values, with the first step being to destroy Christmas. Now, in 2005, we have folks led by Bill O'Reilly claiming "secular progressives" are out to get rid of Christmas as the first step toward the removal of all religion from public discourse. The "bad guys" change, but the conspiracy theory stays the same. And, like most conspiracy theories, it's a load of crap.
Bottom-line: The first amendment works both ways. The US government is prohibited from promoting or endorsing any religion. The US governement is also prohibited from preventing any private citizens from expressing their religious beliefs, including school kids. Public Christmas displays are fine as long as any citizen can contribute to the display. Christmas ain't going anyware, and no one's trying to take it away from you. Whew! That was a close one! (Well, not really. It seems to be an overblown media myth that has little basis in reality. But now I'm just quibbling)
So, in the spirit of the season:
Happy New Year!
And, yes, even Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings!