Design on Trial

As I previously noted, I found myself in the airport last week, reading Scientific American and Discover magazine. I was allegedly on vacation and thus not working for NCSE, but with Bush’s comments all over the news this was proving difficult. This month’s Scientific American had several evolution/creationism bits, and as it turns out, so did Discover. It is Discover’s 25th year of publication, and they have been reviewing articles from their early issues. This month they discussed the famous 1981-1982 trial McLean v Arkansas, which determined that so-called “creation-science” was unconstitutional establishment of religion in public schools. The cover in February 1982 was “Darwin on Trial”, beating Phillip Johnson to the punch by 9 years.

This reminds me: I recently realized that my writeup for RNCSE on the beginning of the Kitzmiller v. Dover case in Dover, Pennsylvania, is now freely available online. The RNCSE piece, entitled “Design on Trial,” (take that, Phil!) is the most thorough summary currently out there on the development of the Dover policy, and the subsequent lawsuit, covering events up to early 2005.

Kitzmiller is undoubtedly the most important evolution/creationism case at the district court level since McLean, and is already showing many similarities. To wit: a full trial, experts on each side, creationist witnesses bailing early, creationist “research” groups saying they don’t really want creationism taught in public schools after all, etc. We are even beginning to see creationist criticisms of the defense, and we are still months from trial.

Rereading the piece, I daresay that some of my early predictions proved rather accurate. Here was my conclusion:

See you in court

Richard Thompson sounds confident at the moment, but he seems not to realize the legal jeopardy that “intelligent design” is in. Comments from across the community of creationism watchers indicate a virtually unanimous opinion that Kitzmiller represents about the best imaginable court case on which to challenge the constitutionality of ID. Even if the early comments of the DASB remain in dispute, the district’s recommendation of Pandas provides ample material for the expert examination of ID in its original, unabashed form (rather than the rather sly versions of ID that the Discovery Institute has been promoting the last few years).

Despite the Discovery Institute’s qualms about the Dover policy, the TMLC’s Richard Thompson has definitely been using the DI’s game plan – ID is legitimate science, 300 scientists doubt Darwin, it’s only fair to give the alternate view, and so on. If Thompson wants to base his defense on “the science of ID,” so much the better. It will be time for ID advocates to “put up or shut up” about the “scientific theory” of ID. We know that there is no science of ID, and we suspect this will become readily apparent to the court if expert witnesses testify.

In addition to the history and motivations of the Discovery Institute – as evidenced in the infamous “Wedge Document” and elsewhere – the roots of ID and Pandas in 1980s creationism may also become relevant in the case. Of Pandas and People was the first book to collect a wide range of creationist material and put it under the “intelligent design” label, and via Pandas, it was the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, not the Discovery Institute, that was the original architect of “intelligent design.” NCSE has a small, but very interesting, collection of documents on FTE and Pandas and on the development of ID in the 1980s. However, any veteran creationism watchers reading this piece should take a look through their old files, and contact NCSE if they find something that might be relevant.

Even though Kitzmiller is only at the trial court stage, the implications could be widespread. Buckingham has already stated that he wants to take ID to the Supreme Court, and it seems as though the TMLC will have the temerity to back him. One school district, in Blount County, Tennessee, appears to have already followed in the footsteps of Dover and passed its own ID policy.

NCSE has just learned that the trial will commence in September 2005. As consultants for the plaintiffs’ team, NCSE will leave the legal decisions to the legal experts, but will give advice to help them get the science right. That is, after all, what this is all about.

In actual fact, subsequent events confirmed that Of Pandas and People, the first “intelligent design” book, really was just a creationist book with a new euphemism, “intelligent design.”

The unexplained withdrawal of several star IDist defense “experts” seems to confirm that my impression of the scientific situation was also accurate.

I am currently working on Episode II of “Design on Trial”, covering events and pretrial motions during the spring and summer 2005. I also hope to attend at least part of the trial in Harrisburg, which starts September 26, and will undoubtedly make for a lively Episode III.