Seed Magazine -- "Nick Matzke, Legal Beagle"

Well, this is probably a slight to revolutionary minds everywhere, but Seed magazine has seen fit to include me in their “Revolutionary Minds” series that they are starting in the October issue which just hit the newsstands. See the NCSE writeup for more. Here is Seed’s description:

Revolutionary Minds: Portraits of young, visionary iconoclasts who operate in a world in which cross-pollination and the synthesis of ideas are the norm.

Check out the introduction to the “Nine Revolutionary Minds” article:

Every generation has its salon, its emblematic gathering of emergent thinkers. The 20s saw the likes of Matisse, Pound, Hemingway gathered in Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment. The 50s saw Paul Bowles’ “Tangerinos,” with giants Allen Ginsberg, Truamn Capote, and William Burroughs taking up resident in Tangiers. In the 60s there was Andy Warhol’s Factory, the studio where his iconic silk screens were produced and where Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and so many others could be found on any given New York night.

OK, OK, just what the heck is a guy like me doing here? Well:

Nick Matzke will gladly give a quick tutorial about evolution and history of creationism – even if it means lecturing at 3 a.m. while strolling along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PA. It was there, last November, that Matzke helped the plaintiff’s lawyers cream for their final corss-examination of intelligent design (ID) proponents.

This is, in fact, a true story.

Pepper-Hamilton lawyer Steve Harvey remembers it more vividly than I – those lawyers really know how to function on no sleep – but being unable to find a cab at 3 am, several times we had to hike a mile and a half up the river from downtown Harrisburg to the apartments we were staying at, in the middle of the night. Evidently I said something profound about creationism then but we have trouble remembering exactly what it was. Basically we were discussing how all the events you read about in the history books on creationism were converging precisely on us in the last weeks of the Kitzmiller case. When Robert Gentry (final creationist witness in the 1981 McLean v. Arkansas trial) showed up in Harrsiburg in the last week of the trial, we pretty much decided that we should just accept the fact that we were reliving McLean.

With a background in biology, chemistry, and geography, 30-year old Matzke sharpened his expertise writing for The Panda’s Thumb, a leading evolution blog. There, he became an avid participant in online debates with proponents of ID – a hobby that transformed into a secret weapon for the legal team he later advised.

Note to PT writers and readers: this apparently means that PT is the 21st-century equivalent of Gertrude Stein’s Paris apartment.

He attributes part of the plaintiff’s edge to his careful study of ID tactics. “We knew that [we] could predict exactly what the other side was going to say in response to any argument,” he recalls.

Of course anyone very familiar with creationism knows this very well…but I was the lucky guy who got to be the conduit…

Matzke also assisted by searching archives and collecting evidence. In April 2005, after reading about the development of ID’s seminal text, Of Pandas and People, Matzke realized that early versions of the text might reveal its authors’ intentions and notified the legal team in what he calls his “Psychic Email about the Pandas drafts.” Sure enough, when five drafts of the text were subpoenaed and analyzed, they turned out to be the ID proponents’ smoking gun.

PT readers know the basic story of the drafts as it was unveiled in 2005 during the Kitzmiller case. And my contribution, which I admit makes me chuckle in astonishment every single day, has been recounted a few times. But because I don’t think this is on the web anywhere, I have posted a section of my essay on the Kitzmiller case that was published in NCSE’s special Dover issue of Reports of the National Center for Science Education. (Note to everyone: NCSE members receive this journal in the mail as their membership, instead of having to wait for the whim of a blogger. Join NCSE!) Here is the relevant section:

The Story of the Drafts

Barbara Forrest was the expert who would have to make the connection between the ID movement and creationism. She had, of course, coauthored Creationism’s Trojan Horse, on the origins and history of the Discovery Institute, the “Wedge document”, and the leaders of the ID movement. However, the Discovery Institute only established the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture in 1996. Of Pandas and People, which is the first book to use the terms “intelligent design” and “design proponents” systematically, and which presents all of the modern ID arguments, was published in 1989. The creationist origin of Pandas and the “intelligent design” phraseology was not covered in detail in previous works on the history of ID, so my job was to dig up everything we could possibly find on the origin of Pandas and “intelligent design”. The NCSE archives contain several files on Pandas and on the publisher of the book, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE).

Because Frank Sonleitner and John Thomas had done significant work analyzing the book and tracking FTE’s activities in the 1980s and 1990s (see, I gathered advice and old files from both of them. I also rummaged through the relevant files in NCSE’s archives and looked up various books and articles published by the Pandas authors, working through NCSE’s collection of old creationist magazines and newspapers. Finally, I examined three recent books that give histories of the ID movement – Larry Witham’s By Design and Where Darwin Meets the Bible, and Thomas Woodward’s Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design. Although the role of Pandas in the ID movement is minimized in these sources, they nevertheless contained various useful tidbits from interviews with the “academic editor” of Pandas, Charles Thaxton, and other early players in the ID movement.

Examination of all of these sources together – apparently something that no one had taken the time and trouble to do before – revealed some interesting facts about the history of Pandas: (1) Thaxton and the books authors were working on Pandas for about a decade before it was actually published in 1989; (2) in early references to the Pandas project in the 1980s, Thaxton and FTE’s president Jon Buell described themselves and their work as “creationist” and about “creation” – not “intelligent design”; and (3) the label “intelligent design” was chosen for Pandas very late in the evolution of the book, almost as the last change made before publication. This all built a nice circumstantial case that ID developed from creationism, and this case is made in Barbara Forrest’s first expert report, filed on April 1, 2005.

On about April 8, NCSE’s then-archivist Jessica Moran came across another document in a file in the NCSE archives: a prospectus for a book entitled Biology and Origins, sent to a textbook publisher in 1987. Somehow this ended up in the files of the late Thomas Jukes, a prominent molecular biologist and longtime NCSE supporter. In 1995, Jukes sent the page to NCSE with the handwritten note “I found this in an old file, but it is certainly fascinating!” The prospectus document indicated that Biology and Origins existed in draft form in 1987, and furthermore had been sent to school districts for testing as well as to prospective publishers. The existence of unpublished drafts of Pandas should have been obvious from the evidence mentioned in the previous paragraph, and references to Biology and Origins were known, but we thought of it as just a working title for Pandas. The prospectus document made it clear that Biology and Origins was an actual draft that was widely reproduced and sent out to publishers and reviewers, and also explicitly indicated that the book would “give students the scientific rationale for creation from the study of biology.”

This discovery shed light on a rather important historical fact that had somehow been omitted from all previous histories of the origin of the “intelligent design” movement. It has always been obvious that ID arguments derived from creationist sources, but never in the wildest dreams of creationism watchers had it occurred to anyone that the phrase “intelligent design” had quite literally originated as a switch in terminology in an actual physical draft of an explicitly creationist textbook.

I summarized the situation, as I understood it at the time, to the legal team as follows, in a discussion of Dembski’s expert report:

Dembski doesn’t mention the “version 0” of Pandas, Biology and Origins, which is mentioned in some of the 1980s FTE fundraising letters and other material. I am reasonably sure that the word “creation” would be substituted for “design” or “intelligent design” at many points within that manuscript. This would prove our point in many ways. We have a couple written sources indicating that picking the words “intelligent design” was one of the very last things that Charles Thaxton did during the development of Pandas.

We don’t know:

(a) Whether any copies of Biology and Origins still exist, e.g. at FTE in Texas or in the files OF Thaxton, Davis or Kenyon;

(b) Whether Dembski has seen them (based on the expert report, Dembski either doesn’t know the prehistory of Pandas, or is leaving that out).

At the time, it was far from clear that creationist drafts of Pandas still existed. But Eric Rothschild knew what to do. He immediately issued a subpoena to the Foundation for Thought and Ethics for any documents relating to the origin and development of Biology and Origins and Of Pandas and People.

After a failed attempt to quash the subpoena, FTE coughed up the documents in early July. To our amazement, five major drafts were uncovered, and we were able to trace the switch in terminology from creationism to “intelligent design” to just after the Supreme Court’s Edwards v Aguillard decision in 1987. Barbara Forrest included all of this in a supplementary expert report and in her testimony at trial, and it became a key piece of Judge Jones’s opinion.

Although the Pandas drafts were obviously important in the Kitzmiller case, it is only slowly dawning on everyone just how significant they are. The drafts are nothing less than the smoking gun that proves exactly when and how “intelligent design” originated. This was probably the biggest discovery in creationism research since the finding that the Coso Artifact was actually a 1920s sparkplug (see RNCSE 2004 Mar/Apr; 24 [2]: 26-30). They prove that the cynical view of ID was exactly right: ID really is just creationism relabeled, and anyone who thought otherwise was either naively misinformed or engaging in wishful thinking.

(pp. 40-41 of: Matzke, N. (2006). “Design on Trial: How NCSE Helped Win the Kitzmiller Case.” Reports of the National Center for Science Education. 26(1-2), 37-44.)

The now-famous word-count charts used by Barbara Forrest in her testimony, which showed how the “creation” and “creationist” terminology was systematically and suddenly changed to “intelligent design” and “design proponent” terminology, are available online exhibits page of NCSE’s Kitzmiller v. Dover documents archive. They are free for nonprofit educational use as long as the source page is cited.

The equally famous “missing link” between creationism and “intelligent design”, “cdesign proponentsists”, was discovered by Barbara Forrest. Discussion of this discovery is found here and here.

Another note to readers: Ponder these facts: No one knew anything about these drafts. They were completely unmentioned in the literature on the ID movement. They were discovered only because of a conjunction of factors: (1) NCSE existed, (2) NCSE has kept archives on creation/evolution since the 1980s, (3) NCSE awhile back hired an archivist to organize these files, (4) NCSE was involved in the Kitzmiller case and was in close contact with the lawyers, (5) NCSE was able to give a staffer (me) free reign to work on the case, dig through the archives, and eventually realize the big picture. If any of these factors had been missing the drafts would have remained completely unknown and as far as the judge and the world were concerned, they would not have existed. All of these factors existed and came together only because of the existence of NCSE. Did I mention you should join NCSE?

Like I said before, I am still amazed at how this part of the Kitzmiller case worked out. I was tremendously lucky to be in the right place at the right time. But they say that chance favors the prepared mind, and I think it is safe to say that PT and its predecessors such as TalkOrigins and TalkDesign, and particularly the small group of people involved in these projects, had a lot to do with preparing me. You are all revolutionary minds!

[Added in edit: The full reference is: Molly Wetterschneider (2006). “Nick Matzke: Legal Beagle.” Seed: Science is Culture. 2(7), p. 62. November 2006. Part of “Revolutionary Minds” series in Seed magazine, 2(7), pp. 54-63. Molly gets kudos for listening to my Kitzmiller stories for far too long.]

[I also forgot to mention that two other regulars are in this issue of Seed: PZ Myers reviews Dawkins’ new book, and Chris Mooney has a piece on science and the November election – “Scientists of the World, Unite!”.]