Thomas More Law Center Responds to UPenn Professors

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Nick mentioned this in a couple of comments, but I think it needs a post of its own.

Richard Thompson, chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover Area School District’s new “intelligent design” policy, responded to an open letter from biology and philosophy professors at the University of Pennsylvania. I don’t think I’m the only one who finds it amusing that a lawyer thinks that he can correct Ivy League biologists about biology and science. Thompson begins,

Thompson Wrote:

If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist. It is clear that you do not have the slightest idea of the actual Dover school policy that you so vehemently condemn, and so let me educate you.

Wow, looks like the Dover Area School District sure picked a winner to represent them. There are numerous problems with Thompson’s accusations, as I will demonstrate below.

Thompson continues,

Thompson Wrote:

You write that the Dover school Board made a decision to “mandate the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ along with evolution.” That statement is untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. The school board policy specifically states: “No teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.”

The school district’s press release on the new biology curriculum policy is internally inconsistent. Thompson uses this inconsistency to avoid facts unfavorable to his case. The biology curriculum has actually been amended to include the following objective:

DASD Wrote:

Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design. The Origins of Life is not taught.

Based on this new curriculum change, the UPenn professors are correct that the school board has mandated the inclusion of “intelligent design” in the classroom. Nothing in the press release suggests that this language has been removed from the curriculum. However, being the inconsistent document it is, the press release also includes the following sentence:

DASD Wrote:

The Superintendent, Dr. Richard Nilsen, has directed that no teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.

Thompson emphasizes this sentence in his letter, ignoring how inconsistent it is with the rest of the facts of the case. The statement that will be read to biology students indeed introduces “intelligent design” into the classroom at the mandate of the school district. Thompson can use this inconsistency to disclaim the board’s policy all he wants, but that doesn’t change the board’s policy. Thompson continues,

Thompson Wrote:

Regarding your dispute with the definition of theory, you fail to include the actual definition used in the policy, “A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.” That definition was recommended by the science teachers and adopted by the school board.

The statement that will be read to the students is also internally inconsistent. It clearly derives from classic “anti-evolution” language used by special creationists and “intelligent design” activists. Statements taken from standard biology curricula appear to have been mixed in. In all, it is a hodge-podge constructed mainly by ignorant individuals trying to not get sued. The UPenn professors were right in their criticism that the statement’s section on “theory” is misleading to students. Thompson’s appeal to the statement’s internal inconsistency doesn’t change that. Thompson continues,

Thompson Wrote:

the only theory taught in class is Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the only textbook used in class is the standard text positing this theory.

“Darwin’s theory?” I wonder if Thompson has ever even heard about Wallace, Fisher, Haldane, Wright, Dobzhansky, Kimura, and the many other biologists that have contributed to the vast field of evolutionary biology. It hasn’t been Darwin’s theory for a long time. If the curriculum mentions anything about genes being involved in evolution, they are not teaching Darwin’s theory; they are teaching the modern synthesis. Anti-evolutionists do tend to make the mistaken projection of implying that modern biology consists of nothing more than following the century-old authority of an English gentleman.

Getting back to the happenings in Dover, Thompson is a bit disingenuous here. The school board has passed a biology curriculum change that would require “intelligent design” to be taught as an alternate “theory.” (Making aware is teaching.) However, the biology teachers made it clear that they would not develop any such curriculum for the board. (There is nothing to develop it from.) Without anyone willing to do their dirty work for them, the board decided to craft a statement based on the politics of “intelligent design” creationism, and have the teachers read it to their students. This statement teaches that “Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view” and urges students to investigate it in Of Pandas and People, a “reference book” available from the school. Thompson goes on to say,

Thompson Wrote:

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member [sic] of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue?

Perhaps Thompson should ask Stephen Meyer, David Berlinski, William Dembski, Jay Richards, Francis Beckwith, Paul Nelson, Robert Koons, J. Budziszewski, Robin Collins, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, John Mark Reynolds and the many other philosophers connected with the Discovery Institute and the “intelligent design” movement. It is plainly obvious that the “intelligent design” movement derives much more of its material from philosophers (and other non-scientists) than scientists. Even in its cadre of genuine scientists, experience with evolutionary biology and biology in general is lacking. Thompson continues,

Thompson Wrote:

This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists.

I’m curious if Thompson can identify what the scientific data is, what those interpretations are, what critically peer-reviewed scientific papers they have been presented in. I doubt he can do any of these. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has investigated such claims and concluded

AAAS Wrote:

individual scientists and philosophers of science have provided substantive critiques of “intelligent design,” demonstrating significant conceptual flaws in its formulation, a lack of credible scientific evidence, and misrepresentations of scientific facts.

The purpose of Thompson’s organization is “to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square.” Now, Thompson has claimed that the school policy is only about science, but if his claim was true, why would he be involved? Thompson continues,

Thompson Wrote:

I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism.

We have now seen the reason why the Thomas More Law Center, champion of Christian values, is involved in this case and why its chief counsel has responded so vociferously to these UPenn professors. Clearly, the above passage derives from the classic anti-evolutionist position: “evolution is atheism, and the biological establishment only supports evolution because of their dogmatic, atheistic religion.” The Thomas More Law Center is defending the Dover Area School District because it wants to defend Christians from biology and dogmatic biologists. Thompson isn’t done,

Thompson Wrote:

In conclusion, the Dover policy merely makes students aware of a growing controversy in the scientific community over the extent to which the theory of evolution can explain complex biological systems.

Too bad no such controversy exists. When real controversies exist in science, they are between scientists in relevant fields actively researching, experimenting, publishing their results on the issue in critically peer-reviewed journals, and actively defending their work at mainstream, general conferences and in further scientific publications. Clearly, “intelligent design” does not fit this pattern. Teaching students otherwise is neither honest nor fruitful education. Thompson continues his conclusion,

Thompson Wrote:

This policy promotes critical thinking, which is important not only for the science profession, but for education in general.

On its face, the policy does not promote critical thinking, since it insulates “intelligent design” from being critically examined by students. The policy includes no mention that “intelligent design” has gaps or problems or even the fact that it has no scientific support whatsoever.

Pedagogically, encouraging students, with less than a week of study, to critically examine evolution is problematic. They simply would not know enough about the centuries of biological research behind evolution to make informed, critical examinations. It is important in science education for students to be able to understand their deficiencies in knowledge. If they know what they don’t know, they can then set out to learn it. This malformed policy violates that goal. Thompson ends,

Thompson Wrote:

Moreover, this policy is in keeping with the Congressional intent behind the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and complements an honest science education.

Thompson is wrong about the No Child Left Behind Act. Congress’s intent with NCLB is very clear; they never enacted into law Santorum’s amendment which contained “teach the controversy” language. By decision of Congress it was intentionally removed. In addition, the law specifically states that is does not dictate anything against local control:

Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction. Sec 1905 of Public Law 107-110

Thompson argues for honest science education. Intelligent design, however, is not science but pseudoscience. How is presenting pseudoscience as science being honest?

Full Text of the UPenn Letter

5 January 2005

Dover Area School Board 2 School Lane Dover, PA 17315

An Open Letter to the Dover Area School Board:

As scientists, scholars, and teachers, we are compelled to point out that the quality of science education in your schools has been seriously compromised by the decision to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design” along with evolution. Science education should be based on ideas that are well supported by evidence. Intelligent design does not meet this criterion: It is a form of creationism propped up by a biased and selective view of the evidence.

In contrast, evolution is based on and supported by an immense and diverse array of evidence and is continually being tested and reaffirmed by new discoveries from many scientific fields. The evidence for evolution is so strong that important new areas of biological research are confidently and successfully based on the reality of evolution. For example, evolution is fundamental to genomics and bioinformatics, new fields which hold the promise of great medical discoveries.

According to the York Daily Record (November 23, 2004), you issued a statement claiming that “Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence.” This is extraordinarily misleading. While one can refer to the general body of modern evolutionary knowledge as “theory,” the same is true of all other scientific knowledge, such as the theory of relativity or the theory of continental drift. It is one of the hallmarks of scientific inquiry that all such ideas are open to testing and reinterpretation. That theories are open to testing, however, does not mean that they are wrong. Evolution has been subject to well over a century of continual testing. The result: Its reality is no more in dispute among biologists than, for example, the existence of atoms and molecules is among chemists.

Our students need to be taught the method and content of real science. We urge you to alter the misguided policy of teaching intelligent design creationism in your high school science curriculum. Instead, empower students with real, dependable scientific knowledge. They need this knowledge to understand the world around them, to compete for admission to colleges and universities, and to compete for good jobs. They deserve nothing less.

Sincerely,

Paul Sniegowski Associate Professor Department of Biology

Michael Weisberg Assistant Professor Department of Philosophy

Members of the Departments of Biology and Philosophy:

Prof. Edwin Abel Prof. Andrew Binns Prof. Anthony Cashmore Prof. Brenda Casper Prof. Dorothy Cheney Prof. Karen Detlefsen Prof. Zoltan Domotor Prof. Arthur Dunham Prof. Samuel Freeman Prof. Warren Ewens Prof. Steven Gross Prof. Greg Guild Prof. Paul Guyer Prof. Gary Hatfield Prof. Michael Hippler Prof. Daniel Janzen Prof. Peter Petraitis Prof. Scott Poethig Prof. Philip Rea Prof. Dejian Ren Prof. Marc Schmidt Prof. Paul Schmidt Prof. Richard Schultz Prof. Tatanya Svitkina Prof. Kok-Chor Tan Prof. Lewis Tilney Prof. Doris Wagner Prof. Eric Weinberg Prof. Scott Weinstein Prof. Sally Zigmond

Associate Dean David Balamuth (Natural Sciences), Department of Physics

SakarLab

Full Text of TMLC Letter

Thomas More Law Center

Richard Thompson Chief Counsel Admitted in Michigan

January 7,2005

Paul Sniegowski University of Pennsylvania Department of Biology 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Michael Weisberg University of Pennsylvania Department of Philosophy 415 S. University Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19104-6018

Response to open letter dated January 6,2005:

If the level of inquiry supporting your letter is an example of the type of inquiry you make before arriving at scientific conclusions, I suggest that at the very least, your students should get their tuition money back, and more appropriately, the University should fire you as a scientist. It is clear that you do not have the slightest idea of the actual Dover school policy that you so vehemently condemn, and so let me educate you.

You write that the Dover school Board made a decision to “mandate the teaching of ‘intelligent design’ along with evolution.” That statement is untrue; in fact the opposite is the case. The school board policy specifically states: “No teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board’s, religious beliefs.”

Moreover, the school board adopted and purchased the biology textbooks for its students that were recommended by the school science teachers and the administration.

Regarding your dispute with the definition of theory, you fail to include the actual definition used in the policy, “A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.” That definition was recommended by the science teachers and adopted by the school board.

Finally, you are under the impression that Dover students will not be taught evolution, Let me disabuse you of that concern. The policy specifically acknowledges that the students must learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and take a standardized test in which evolution is a part. Accordingly, the only theory taught in class is Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the only textbook used in class is the standard text positing this theory.

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue? This issue is not about science versus philosophy; it is about two different interpretations of the same scientific data by scientists. I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism.

In conclusion, the Dover policy merely makes students aware of a growing controversy in the scientific community over the extent to which the theory of evolution can explain complex biological systems. This policy promotes critical thinking, which is important not only for the science profession, but for education in general. Moreover, this policy is in keeping with the Congressional intent behind the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and complements an honest science education.

Richard Thompson open letter (PDF)

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As reported in the York Daily Record, the Dover, PA evolution disclaimer — a statement to be read to students explaining that evolution is "just a theory," and implying that Intelligent Design is a feasible alternative explanation for the origins... Read More

30 Comments

I notice that your open letter was signed by a member [sic] of the Department of Philosophy. What does philosophy have to do with this issue?

As you noted, many of the ID proponents are philosophers or other non-biologists, and this statement is coming from a lawyer and non-biologist.

I will also repeat here a link I posted in one of the other threads to Michael Weisberg’s Homepage. I’ll highlight a few words and phrases I think are relevant.

I am an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania.

My research is on the philosophy of science. The project which occupies much of my time focuses on the role that idealization plays in the construction of mathematical models in biology and chemistry. Although I tend to write about population biology and structural chemisty, I am also interested in theory construction in cognitive science, molecular biology, condensed matter physics, and history.

In addition to my primary research areas, I maintain an active interest in the history of philosophy of science (especially Darwin’s methodology and peripatetic debates about mixture), cognitive science, political and ethical dimensions of scientific inquiry, and epistemology.

Besides my primary affiliation in philosophy, I am also a faculty associate of Spruce College House and a faculty affiliate of IRCS, the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science and CCN, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. …

I think Thompson should have dug a little deeper before dissing Weisberg as irrelevant.

I am pleased to see the quality of legal representation the Dover school board will be enjoying.

I am pleased to see the quality of legal representation the Dover school board will be enjoying.

You only get what you pay for, and Thompson was free.

Since Mr. Thompson apparently is not a scientist, I recommend that he consult with members of the Pontifical Academy of Science. Members are chosen primarily for scientific excellence rather than adherence to doctrine. I suspect that they would give him a scientifically legitmate perspective on “controversy”.

But of course Thompson isn’t writing to the UPenn philosphy professors, he is writing to the voters who support the school board, who I imagine are lustily cheering his no-nonsense contempt of atheistic pinheaded ivory tower busybodies. He isn’t so much making points as authoring sound-bites. And in the sound-bite world, something becomes true partly because he SAYS it’s true, and partly because the target audience WANTS it to be true. Actual merit does not play any role in this battle. You want honesty, fairness, critical thinking, broad-based education, your kids not being left behind? By golly, you got it ALL, in one package. Thompson SAYS so.

Thanks, Flint, for reminding us that Thompson isn’t writing letters to please the anti-pseudoscience crowd. Flint also wrote

Actual merit does not play any role in this battle.

which is pure horsehockey. It’s a court case, remember? The obvious lack of scientific merit associated with “ID theory” certainly does matter and Thompson’s ability to persuade the Dover sheep is not relevant. He needs to persuade a Federal judge, most of whom are not so ignorant and, being human, are not eager to have their opinions mocked on appeal or legal newspapers.

Now then, regarding this hilarious quote from the attorney for the charlatans:

I assume you would agree that the metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory of evolution has no place in the science classroom. Or perhaps it is for this very reason that you so staunchly and dogmatically defend Darwin and place his theory above all criticism.

Am I extrapolating too far or did he just call the UPenn Professors a bunch of Nazis?

Seriously, this “metaphysical implication” business is such a load and demonstrates just how far off the base this loons have wandered. Perhaps we should stop teaching high school students about atoms in physics class because of the metaphysical implications of hydrogen bombs. And what about the metaphysical implications of Mark Twain’s books?

I have no idea what the “metaphysical” implications of any of these subjects are, but neither does Mr. Thompson, of course. Nor does anyone else for that matter.

Apparently the only sort of masturbation encouraged by conservative Christians creationist apologists is the mental kind. They seem to engage in that practice ritually.

GWW:

which is pure horsehockey. It’s a court case, remember?

No, this open letter from Thompson to the voting public is not an exhibit in a court case. I am referring to the PR battle, which is why the Thomas More Law Center took the case for free. As Meyer wrote earlier, “The creationist strategy, in general, remains the waging of a war of attrition. They plan to keep creation-science alive in appeal until conservative Reagan appointees begin to stock the courts in greater numbers.” Now, of course, we can substitute Bush for Reagan, but the tactics have not changed. The way to win currently hopeless law cases is to get the courts populated with judges of the appropriate faith – theirs. This requires massive public support. This letter is one bullet in that larger battle.

The obvious lack of scientific merit associated with “ID theory” certainly does matter and Thompson’s ability to persuade the Dover sheep is not relevant. He needs to persuade a Federal judge, most of whom are not so ignorant and, being human, are not eager to have their opinions mocked on appeal or legal newspapers.

You are conflating tactics with strategy. No, I don’t think the ID folks entertain any illusions about winning this particular court case. But the strategy metaphor is the wedge, not the home run. The Kingdom of God will come one judicial election campaign at a time, and high schoolers are tomorrows voters.

Am I extrapolating too far or did he just call the UPenn Professors a bunch of Nazis?

Thompson has his ear to the ground, and knows his audience. Remember that the Dover population’s percentage of college graduates is half the national average? Not a whole bunch of respect for education in the target audience, eh? PLAY on it! Remember, public relations uber alles.

Seriously, this “metaphysical implication” business is such a load and demonstrates just how far off the base this loons have wandered.

No, it indicates how very very out of touch you are with what’s going on. Advertisers have their actors pushing car wax while wearing white lab coats, with oscilloscopes(!) in the background, for a reason. It SELLS. The larger battle is for hearts and souls. Minds are very carefully not engaged.

I checked out the web site of the U Penn Philosphy Department. Weisberg wasn’t the only member to sign. Here’s the ones I picked out. Some specialize in directly relevant fields, some don’t:

Karen Detlefsen (Ph.D. Toronto), Asst. Professor; Early Modern Philosophy / History & Philosophy of Biology / Women in Philosophy

Zoltan Domotor (Ph.D. Stanford), Professor and Undergraduate Chair; Philosophy of Science / Applied Logic / Epistemology /Cognitive Science

Samuel Freeman (Ph.D. Harvard, J.D. North Carolina), Stephen F. Goldstone Term Professor of Philosophy and Law; Social and Political Philosophy / Moral Philosophy / Philosophy of Law

Steven Gross (Ph.D. Harvard), Asst. Professor; Philosophy of Language / Philosophy of Mind / Metaphysics

Paul Guyer (Ph.D. Harvard), F. R. C. Murray Professor in the Humanities; Kant / Modern Philosophy / Aesthetics

Gary Hatfield (Ph.D. Wisconsin), Seybert Professor & Graduate Chair; History of Modern Philosophy / Philosophy of Psychology / Philosophy of Science

Scott Weinstein (Ph.D. Rockefeller), Professor of Philosophy, Mathematics, Psychology, and Computer Science. Department Chair, Philosophy. Director, Logic, Information, and Computation Program; Logic / Philosophy of Mathematics / Philosophy of Psychology

Kok-Chor Tan (Ph.D. Toronto), Assistant Professor; Ethics / Social and Political Philosophy

My hat goes off to all of them.

BB,

You are right, and it was plainly obvious from the letter which was signed by “Members of the Departments of Biology and Philosophy.” It is clearly a joint-department letter. I’m suprised Thompson with the excellent “level of inquiry” he learn while being a lawyer missed this.

The larger battle is for hearts and souls.

Oh, Flint, you are such a poet. Sniff. Thanks for the reminder. If I didn’t have you around to remind me ten times a day that fundamentalists put the Bible above all else (which they don’t, of course – they readily recite from scripts handed to them by preachers), I’d be totally lost.

Actual merit does not play any role in this battle.

Again, this statement is false for the reasons I set forth above, unless you choose to play loose with the term “this battle.” But that sort of dissembling is beneath you, I hope.

No, this open letter from Thompson to the voting public is not an exhibit in a court case

Not in this particular case. Not yet.

But if you believe that public statements about issues in a pending case made by attorneys of record are per se not relevant to proceedings in that case, I’d like to see some case law to support that belief.

You are conflating tactics with strategy.

I’ll try not to do it again, although I have no idea what the hell that sentence is supposed to mean.

Remember that the Dover population’s percentage of college graduates is half the national average? Not a whole bunch of respect for education in the target audience, eh? PLAY on it! Remember, public relations uber alles.

I’m sure Thompson appreciates that advice, especially coming from you, after he’s already executed his “strategy.”

Seriously, Flint, save your condenscension for the ignorant rubes and the charlatans who create the breadcrumb trails for them follow. And learn how to use quotation marks when you are pretending to channel someone else’s thoughts.

Advertisers have their actors pushing car wax while wearing white lab coats, with oscilloscopes(!) in the background, for a reason. It SELLS.

Maybe Scott Peterson should have spent more on advertising. How many TV commercials does the average Federal judge pay attention to each year, I wonder?

Penn has many more departments and programs relevant to biology, 42 in this primitive search. I wonder if additional shoes will drop.

Richard Thompson bragging on his website

He successfully defended the constitutionality of Michigan’s Mandatory Life Law for major drug dealers in the United States Supreme Court.

Read this http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004[…]662293.shtml

and this http://www.justicepolicy.org/article.php?id=76

to discover just how ill the system was that Thompson defended and how quickly that system was discarded.

Elsewhere on the site we find some text from that tired old script:

America has become a nation where public school students are prohibited from praying, acknowledging their dependence upon God, and forming religious clubs

Lies. Richard Thompson is about to learn the hard way that playing the family values card and reciting conservative Christian mythology will not trump 150 years of some of the most successful scientific research ever performed. It will undoubtedly be a frustrating experience for him and his clients.

If you check out the TMLC resource page, you can see that they sell book marks based on Johnathan Well’s “Icons.”

Great analysis. I think that I would add that the long list of philosophers is also listed in the so-called “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” on the DI website. Maybe Thompson can ask the folks at DI what philosophy has to do with science.

America has become a nation where public school students are prohibited from praying, acknowledging their dependence upon God, and forming religious clubs

Translated, what this means is that one particular religion has been gradually losing a position of special favor and privilege it long enjoyed at the expense of all other viewpoints. Of course nobody is prohibited from actually DOING any of the above; instead they are prohibited from imposing their preferences on others with the backing of the State, and being required to grant (ghasp!) equal opportunity to other viewpoints. Perhaps no deprivation is quite so painful as deprivation of privilege.

Gary Hurd Wrote:

You only get what you pay for, and Thompson was free.

Gary, I don’t think you want to push on this one since the lawyers for the good guys are also being provided for free. Not too many groups of parents in small localities could afford the lawyers to bring a major court case unless some organization provided them or the lawyers agreed to go pro bono.

Great White Wonder Wrote:

Richard Thompson bragging on his website

“He successfully defended the constitutionality of Michigan’s Mandatory Life Law for major drug dealers in the United States Supreme Court.”

Read this http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004[…]662293.shtml

and this http://www.justicepolicy.org/article.php?id=76

to discover just how ill the system was that Thompson defended and how quickly that system was discarded.

GWW, Thompson would have defended the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court and not whether or not it is a good idea. There is a big difference between the two. Laws should not be struck down by the courts for being a bad idea, but only for violating a more supreme law. (The Constitution of the United States being the highest law in the U.S.) We can not win in court in Dover merely because the policy is bad, but rather since it is only motivated for religious purposes which violates the Constitution.

– Anti-spam: Replace “user” with “harlequin2”

Mike

Point taken. In context of the web page from which I extracted the quote, it seems obvious that Thompson was not extolling his argumentative skills so much as his willingness to be a bulldog for “Family Values” (my family’s favorite value was the death penalty – the foundation of American society).

I am not familiar with the Supreme Court case, however, and my five second effort to pull up the case online was not successful. Frankly, putting someone in jail for life for small-time drug dealing (which happened under the law) seems rather cruel and unusual. Michigan seems to have come to its senses, even if the Supreme’s (decomposing in their seats) remain drunk on the crack rhetoric of the 80s.

Bold predictions:

1. The lawyers for the parents and teachers will move that the judge take judicial note of the soundness of evolution as the binding theory of biology. The judge makes such a ruling – thereby eliminating any arguments that evolution is religion, or that it’s not good science.

2. The lawyers for the Thomas More group will be so enraged or rattled that they’ll let slip in court that they know ID is religion-based, and it is revealed that the More team advised their clients to “forget” their previous statements in favor of Jesus in the classroom, and leave themselves open for Rule 11 sanctions.

3. The trial court will grant summary judgment against the District’s policy. The Supreme Court will not review. Judicial note that evolution is not religion, and that evolution is solid science, will stand.

And now you know why the DI folks are so frantic to get this case out of court. Creationists have always understood the thin veneer that separates their claims from wholesale, unconstitutional invention. Since the Scopes trial in 1925, they have sought to avoid real legal confrontations in real legal venues, because they lack a real case. Every once in a while some sucker from the interior of the nation takes the creationist professionals as sincere, and pushes the issue into a real court – Arkansas in 1967, Arkansas in 1981, Louisiana in 1986, Pennsylvania in 2004. Creationism loses.

Creationists argue that they are being oppressed, hit the airwaves and mail with pleas for more funding, and then they make slick videos denying that the court loss they suffered ever occurred …

But, Mr. Hopkins, the Thomas More folks, with the support of the legal guys at Discovery Institute, have been shopping the nation, promising school boards that they would cover the costs of the litigation, hoping to get such a case. See their offer in Montana, for example.

Otherwise, school boards wouldn’t throw away the taxpayers’ money. They like to get re-elected, and most of them probably genuinely like their neighbors and like to spend wisely.

Free legal defense that effectively entraps one into getting sued is very expensive, it seems to me. Pro bono or donated representation that protects the Constitution is a more noble enterprise.

But, then, I revere the Constitution, as well as the facts.

Gary, I don’t think you want to push on this one since the lawyers for the good guys are also being provided for free. Not too many groups of parents in small localities could afford the lawyers to bring a major court case unless some organization provided them or the lawyers agreed to go pro bono.

You have a point Mike, I was just swatting at gnats. As a “card carrying member” of the ACLU, I guess that I sort of feel that I help pay for these parties. Thompson probably wants this case to drive his PR machine to the bank.

Thomas More - that name rings a bell. Wasn’t he the guy who had his head cut off in Iraq by Abu Zarqawi because he offended the Muslim religion? No, that’s too recent.

Oh wait, I remember now. He’s the guy who had his head cut off by Christian Creationists because they disagreed with his … er … Christian beliefs.

Science makes a lot more sense than religion.

[Thomas More is] the guy who had his head cut off by Christian Creationists because they disagreed with his … er … Christian beliefs.

To be fair to both the choppers and the choppee, all Christians of that day would have been creationists. So too would everybody else have been, as there was as yet no basis for being other than a creationist.

Thomas More probably would have said that his head was chopped off because his Christian beliefs made him disagree with the king’s. Certainly that is the spin put on the matter these days by those who count him a saint. Some protestants, by contrast, might claim that, to the extent More’s beliefs differed from the king’s, they were not Christian. All this makes for an intra-Christian squabble of much historical interest, if little edifying value. But it’s also a red herring. As it happens, differences in ‘Christian belief’ had little to do with it. The king in question differed very little on doctrinal matters from More (who himself, in the days when he was still the most powerful civil servant in the kingdom, had religious dissenters killed). The English Reformation, at least under Henry, was essentially a political rather than a religious affair. (Even after breaking with the pope, Henry continued to use the papally-bestowed title ‘Defensor fidei’ with pride, and without a trace of irony. He was awarded the title for his text attacking Luther’s teachings on the sacraments. What is ironic is that More probably helped him write it.)

But forward to the present day. The Dover business is worrying enough, both in itself and as symptom of a wider phenomenon in American civil life. It also presents a sort of meta-worry, however. It is evidence of an increasing tendency in Roman Catholic circles to join ranks with biblical fundamentalists, traditionally their arch-enemies, in the service of creationism. SFAIK the RCC was never defined by rejection of evolution as the backwoods bible-thumpers are (historical footnote: Monkey Trial defendant Scopes was, if I am not mistaken, a catholic). The pope himself (not before time, but still: credit where due) has literally said that evolution is not ‘just a theory’. His church is hardly invested in a literal reading of scripture (indeed, if anything, very much the opposite). And yet here we have these Thomas More people backing mandatory ID; Phyllis Schlafly, who penned that very amusing ID piece taken apart here a few days back, is also a Roman Catholic; and so too, I believe, is Rick Santorum. Interesting. Those RCs striving hardest to keep schoolchildren from learning science are of that conservative sort that loudly demands strict submission to the pope on abortion, homosexuality, women clergy etc. Why, then, do they thumb their collective nose at him on evolution (to say nothing of capital punishment, the war in Iraq, etc.)? ‘Bad catholics’, I’d say (were I the pope), ‘ - no biscuit!’

Oh wait, I remember now.  He’s the guy who had his head cut off by Christian Creationists because they disagreed with his … er … Christian beliefs.

More was a staunch defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and an enemy of the Reformation. That’s what got him in trouble. Undoubtedly, his unwavering defense of the faith, as well as his martyrdom, is what makes him a icon for a certain subset of the Relgious Right. (It’s important for them to feel persecuted.) But I wonder how popular he’d be among the average joes in Dover if they knew he was a papist.

Mrs. Tilton Wrote:

And yet here we have these Thomas More people backing mandatory ID; Phyllis Schlafly, who penned that very amusing ID piece taken apart here a few days back, is also a Roman Catholic; and so too, I believe, is Rick Santorum.

Yes, Santorum is Catholic. Michael Behe is also Roman Catholic. So too is DI fellow Ben Wiker, whose contribution to the debate is to blame Darwin for society’s apparently rampant immorality.

Conservative Catholics have definitely allied themselves with the protestant Religious Right, in spite of the fact that anti-Catholicism has historically been a major part of protestant fundamentalism. It’s hard to know what to make of this. In a sense, it’s probably a case of cold utilitarianism, just as Jewish neo-conservaties allied with the Religious Right. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that. Maybe it’s because they feel backed in a corner. Or maybe it’s because they’ve become more politically savvy and devious than in the past.

More was a staunch defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and an enemy of the Reformation.

Quite true. The thing is, Henry was also a staunch defender of catholic orthodoxy until he broke with Rome, and even afterward staunchly defended all of it except that bit about the pope. Reform-minded churchmen had to watch their backs during his reign, though they were able to be a bit bolder during his later ill-health. (Wags of the day remarked that one could tell how on-top-of-things Henry was by whether bishop Cranmer had to keep his wife hidden away in Germany or dared to bring her back to England.) In its Henrician phase, the English Reformation was a reformation merely of church governance, not of doctrine; it strongly resembled the actions of the Gallican party in France a century earlier, which differed only in failing to produce (probably for reasons of historical serendipity) a definitive break the French church and the papacy. The ‘Reformation’ part of the English Reformation didn’t really get under way until Edward’s reign and wasn’t completed until (after a violent lurch back Romewards under Mary) the reign of Elizabeth.

But enough of these fascinating events of long-ago. I wonder, will the Roman curia lay out with a few bashes of the crozier if their otherwise faithful flock in the USA grow too cosy with the heretics? They certainly stamped down hard on the overtures made by the evangelical Promise Keepers movement to recruit members from the RC church, and I doubt that was because Rome had any quarrel with the PKs’ broad agenda.

As for why Thomas More is so widely admired: his loyalty to Rome might be sufficient for this among conservative Roman Catholics. But he’s admired among a much wider group, you know, not all of whom are conservative or catholic (or even religious). I think this is largely down to the film A Man For All Seasons. People have the idea that More was a great individualist who was willing to die rather than abandon his own personal beliefs. Though one must concede that More did have the courage of his convictions, he would have been horrified to hear himself described in such terms. The notion that one should be free to exercise personal judgement in matters of religious belief was something he fought hard against his whole professional life (including by executing those who dared exercise it).

Just a quick note on the philosophy aspect Mr. Thompson is attempting to downplay. Even casting proponents of the Argument to Design as one side in a conflict between philosophy and science is pure rhetoric; Hume refuted it quite adequately in his Dialogue on Natural Religion, even if we had to wait until Darwin for a serious alternative.

Moreover, perhaps someone could enlighten me as to the “metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory”? The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the existence of God (for example), at least so far as I can recall; like all scientific theories, it relies upon certain assumptions (about induction, for instance) and produces decidedly materialistic claims about physical phenomena (a materialism that does not rule out dualist claims).

The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the existence of God

Two notable creationists who would probably agree with you:

Charles Darwin

The Pope

The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the existence of God

Two notable creationists who would probably agree with you:

Charles Darwin

The Pope

Ipse dixit

Actual quotations and citations would be necessary to support such a statement. Can you provide them?

My understanding of the Papacy’s position is that evolution is not incompatible with the Christian faith - that God added ‘souls’ to mankind somewhere along the evolutionary timeline. Nothing in there about whether the theory itself says anything about God.

Benedict Eastaugh Wrote:

Moreover, perhaps someone could enlighten me as to the “metaphysical implication of Darwin’s theory”? The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the existence of God (for example), at least so far as I can recall; like all scientific theories, it relies upon certain assumptions (about induction, for instance) and produces decidedly materialistic claims about physical phenomena (a materialism that does not rule out dualist claims).

Since the usage was Richard Thompson’s, he is the one who should do the enlightening. I wouldn’t claim to know what he meant, but I will look forward to hearing about it during the trial.

You are correct that evolution says nothing about the existence of God, it just frees him (her? them?) from doing some work. In a similar fashion the heliocentric model of the solar system and the law of gravitation put large numbers of angels out of work that had previously been employed pushing the planets about in their epicyclical orbits.

“To assert that the earth revolves around the sun is as erroneous as to claim that Jesus was not born of a virgin.” – Cardinal Bellarmine

Just an FYI I googled the philosophy professor who signed the petition. His specialities are philosophy of science, biology and chemistry (maybe physics too) IIRC. The idea that this mere philosopher brings nothing relevant to the discussion highlights the idiocy of Thompson. The man is a fool who can’t even spare 35 seconds to do a quick google search.

Rilke’s Grand-daughter:

Actual quotations and citations would be necessary to support such a statement. Can you provide them? My understanding of the Papacy’s position is that evolution is not incompatible with the Christian faith - that God added ‘souls’ to mankind somewhere along the evolutionary timeline. Nothing in there about whether the theory itself says anything about God.

I think the Pope’s position is that evolution can’t say anything about the existence of God (so therefore the Theory of Evolution says nothing about the existence of God) because evolution is one of the “sciences of observation” when in fact questions concerning spiritual thingy stuff are matters for philosophy and theology.

The sciences of observation describe and measure, with ever greater precision, the many manifestations of life, and write them down along the time-line. The moment of passage into the spiritual realm is not something that can be observed in this way—although we can nevertheless discern, through experimental research, a series of very valuable signs of what is specifically human life. But the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience—these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs.

The Pope’s Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 22, 1996

http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP961022.HTM

As for Darwin - well, I’m not so sure about that, so hopefully you’ll allow me a (tentative) retraction. But I found an interesting passage from The variation of animals and plants under domestication, Vol. 2:

http://pages.britishlibrary.net/cha[…]ation28.html

If we assume that each particular variation was from the beginning of all time preordained, then that plasticity of organization, which leads to many injurious deviations of structure, as well as the redundant power of reproduction which inevitably leads to a struggle for existence, and, as a consequence, to the natural selection or survival of the fittest, must appear to us superfluous laws of nature. On the other hand, an omnipotent and omniscient Creator ordains everything and foresees everything. Thus we are brought face to face with a difficulty as insoluble as is that of free will and predestination.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on January 11, 2005 3:06 PM.

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