ID Experts Withdraw from Dover Trial

This story has finally been made public so we can talk about it. Within the last couple weeks, three of the main experts for the defense in the Dover ID trial - William Dembski, Stephen Meyer and John Campbell - have all been withdrawn as expert witnesses in the case. The York Daily Record reports:

Dembski, a mathematician and scientific philosopher, said the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the school board, basically fired him because he wanted to have his own attorney present during the depositions.

He said he’s puzzled and frustrated by Thomas More’s refusal to let him participate.

"I felt like I was in the crossfire," Dembski said.

The article goes on to note that there is a basic disagreement between the Discovery Institute, of which all three are fellows, and the Thomas More Law Center, over whether the Dover policy of mandating ID in classrooms is a good idea. The DI has taken the position that it should be allowed, but not mandated, while the TMLC is defending the board's policy of mandating that teaching. Both Dembski and Thompson tried to downplay those differences a bit in the article above, but I would maintain that they go a lot deeper than is being admitted.

The DI has been in a bind from the moment this case started. For the past few years, both sides in this dispute have been waiting for the case - the legal test case that would determine once and for all whether ID can be taught in public school science classrooms or whether the previous precedents against teaching "creation science" will be applied to ID in a similar manner. That's what all of the activity in this area for the last decade has been building toward. Everything that ID advocates have done during that time has been designed (yes, intelligently) to put legal distance between ID and the type of creation science that was banned from public school science classrooms in the Edwards decision. It's not by accident that the Wedge strategy was worked out by an attorney, Phillip Johnson. Johnson knew that the courts would not allow an explicitly religious idea be taught in public schools, so it was necessary to distance ID as much as possible from religion and make it appear to be religion-neutral.

This is why you hear constantly from ID proponents that the designer is not necessarily God, it could also be, for instance, aliens (never mind that this is flatly contradicted by the fact that the DI's official definition of Intelligent Design includes the claim that "certain features of the universe" are "best explained by an intelligent cause" - the makeup of the universe itself is well outside the reach of "aliens", because aliens, like humans, are part of the universe itself. No, their definition requires that the designer be outside the universe itself and hence "supernatural" because their definition combines cosmological and biological design). This is also why the DI was so upset by the discovery and release of the Wedge Document, because that document makes explicit the fact that the entire ID movement and strategy was designed as part of a larger campaign of Christian cultural renewal (which is also why the DI changed the name of its ID component from the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture to merely the Center for Science and Culture). The DI is nothing if not politically savvy and they know that these little rhetorical details make a big difference. They also know that the success or failure of a court case to determine whether ID meets constitutional muster for public school science classrooms depends largely on how well they separate ID from religion.

At any rate, both sides have been on the lookout for that one case that could decide the legal question once and for all, and obviously both sides want the details of that case to be as beneficial to their side as possible. That involves many factors - the specific policy being defended, the entire body of statements made before, during and after the crafting of that policy, the makeup of the Federal court district in which the case would be filed, and so forth.

Fast forward to the Dover situation. The Dover school board adopts a policy to teach ID in science classrooms, but in doing so at least one member of the board makes it clear that this is being done for explicitly religious reasons. The DI immediately began to distance itself from the Dover policy largely for that reason, knowing that this isn't really the test case that they would want. They know that it's too soon to attempt to mandate the teaching of ID because, at this point, there really isn't any there there. As Dembski notes in the article cited above, "there is still a long way at hammering out ID as a full-fledged research program." Many other ID advocates, like Paul Nelson and Bruce Gordon, have said similar things. But the ACLU files suit on behalf of parents in the district and the TMLC comes riding in to defend them, and now the DI is in a bit of a bind.

On the one hand, they want to defend ID in court as legitimate science. On the other hand, they know that if the school board loses this case - particularly if it gets appealed all the way to the Supreme Court and loses there - it's pretty much the end for ID in public schools. That would set a nationwide precedent that would ban ID from public school science classrooms. So they've had a delicate line to walk, wanting to distance themselves from the school board's policy while still defending ID as valid science and not inherently religious in nature. The TMLC, on the other hand, has been a bit of a bull in a china shop in this case, with their leader, Richard Thompson, issuing a series of vitriolic and bold public statements. So there has been a great deal of tension in this case, both at the core and in terms of tactics, between the DI and the TMLC. And the result now has been the loss of at least two of the top three experts on ID from the roster of witnesses for the defense.

Of course, this can only be good news for our side. There is no more eloquent a defender of ID than Stephen Meyer and no more credible a scholar in favor of ID than William Dembski. Only Michael Behe, who at this point is still going to testify, matches them in stature among the defense experts in the case. And frankly, I suspect that Behe will have a much more difficult time on the witness stand than Meyer would have (Meyer is trained as a philosopher, so the give and take of the witness stand is more natural to him; as a scientist, Behe is at a significant disadvantage in that setting). So stay tuned, ladies and gentlemen. This case just got a lot more interesting.