Monthly Archives: June 2008

Kitzmiller v. Dover: The Role of The Discovery Institute

This is the fourth in a series of short articles discussing the excellently written and superbly reasoned opinion, issued on 20 December 2005, by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v Dover Area School District et al. (that link is to an unofficial text version of the opinion).

This post will deal with the limited issue of the Role of The Discovery Institute in this sordid adventure. As will be seen, their participation helped to convince the court that the School Board’s policy was religious and not secular, and thus unconstitutional. This is their website: the Discovery Institute.

The immediately preceding article in this series is: Kitzmiller v. Dover: What’s the Wedge Document? Few will read this entire series in one sitting, so we’ll repeat the following introductory paragraphs:

No excerpts can substitute for the overpowering impression to be gained by reading the entire opinion, which we highly recommend. The court’s website with the 139 page opinion (pdf file) is here: TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. There is also a Wikipedia article about the case, with a great deal of worthwhile background information.

We will be quoting extensively from the court’s opinion. To make this more readable, we won’t use the blockquote feature, which puts quoted material in italics (unless the court itself quotes something, or for the text of relevant footnotes).

In order not to interrupt the narrative, where the judge’s opinion makes references to the trial transcript of witnesses’ testimony, we will replace such clutter with [transcript reference] or something similar. Text appearing in red was colored by us for emphasis. Sometimes we will define a term by placing the definition in brackets. Lettered section titles in bold are from the court’s opinion. We’re also putting Discovery Institute in bold so it can be easily noticed. With those obvious exceptions, everything following this paragraph is quoted from the court’s opinion:

The trial commenced September 26, 2005 and continued through November 4, 2005. This Memorandum Opinion constitutes the Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law which are based upon the Court’s review of the evidence presented at trial, the testimony of the witnesses at trial, the parties’ proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law with supporting briefs, other documents and evidence in the record, and applicable law.3

[Footnote 3:] The Court has received numerous letters, amicus briefs, and other forms of correspondence pertaining to this case. The only documents submitted by third parties the Court has considered, however, are those that have become an official part of the record. Consistent with the foregoing, the Court has taken under consideration the following: (1) Brief of Amici Curiae Biologists and Other Scientists in Support of Defendants (doc. 245); (2) Revised Brief of Amicus Curiae, the Discovery Institute (doc. 301); (3) Brief of Amicus Curiae the Foundation for Thought and Ethics (doc. 309); and (4) Brief for Amicus Curiae Scipolicy Journal of Science and Health Policy (doc. 312).

The Court accordingly grants the outstanding Motions for Leave to File Amicus Briefs, namely the Motion for Leave to File a Revised Amicus Brief by The Discovery Institute (doc. 301), the Motion for Leave to File Amicus Brief by The Foundation for Thought and Ethics (doc. 309), and the Petition for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief by Scipolicy Journal of Science and Health Policy (doc. 312).

[snip]

Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the “Wedge Document.” The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture … [For details on that topic, see one of the earlier threads in this series: Kitzmiller v. Dover: What’s the Wedge Document?]

[snip]

c. Early 2004 – Buckingham’s Contacts with the Discovery Institute

At some point before June 2004, Seth Cooper, an attorney with the Discovery Institute contacted Buckingham [member of the Dover School Board and Chairman of the Board’s Curriculum Committee] and two subsequent calls occurred between the Discovery Institute and Buckingham. Although Buckingham testified that he only sought legal advice which was provided in the phone calls, for which Defendants asserted the attorney-client privilege, Buckingham and Cooper discussed the legality of teaching ID and gaps in Darwin’s theory. [transcript references].

The Discovery Institute forwarded Buckingham a DVD, videotape, and book which he provided to [Superintendent] Nilsen to give the science teachers. [transcript references]. Late in the 2003-04 school year, [Assistant Superintendent] Baksa arranged for the science teachers to watch a video from the Discovery Institute entitled “Icons of Evolution” and at a subsequent point, two lawyers from the Discovery Institute made a legal presentation to the Board in executive session. [transcript references].

[snip]

June 2004 – Board Curriculum Committee Meeting

[snip]

Accordingly, as accurately submitted by Plaintiffs, we find that the Board Curriculum Committee knew as early as June 2004 that ID was widely considered by numerous observers to be a form of creationism. We do not find it coincidental that based upon the previously recited statements and history, some form of creationism was precisely what the Committee wanted to inject into Dover’s science classrooms.

Moreover, at the meeting, although the teachers had already watched the video “Icons of Evolution” from the Discovery Institute, at Buckingham’s insistence they agreed to review it again and consider using in class any portions that aligned with their curriculum. [transcript reference]. Although Baksa believed that the teachers had already determined there were no parts in the video that would be appropriate for use in class, the teachers capitulated in order to secure Buckingham’s approval to purchase the much needed biology textbook [Kenneth Miller's text]. [transcript references].

[snip]

Despite this collective failure to understand the concept of ID, which six Board members nonetheless felt was appropriate to add to ninth grade biology class to improve science education, the Board never heard from any person or organization with scientific expertise about the curriculum change, save for consistent but unwelcome advices from the District’s science teachers who uniformly opposed the change. [transcript reference]. In disregarding the teachers’ views, the Board ignored undeviating opposition to the curriculum change by the one resource with scientific expertise immediately at its disposal.

The only outside organizations which the Board consulted prior to the vote were the Discovery Institute and TMLC [the Thomas More Law Center], and it is clear that the purpose of these contacts was to obtain legal advice, as opposed to science education information. [transcript references].

The Board received no materials, other than Pandas [a creationist text], to assist them in making their vote. Nor did anyone on the Board or in the administration ever contact the NAS, the AAAS, the National Science Teachers’ Association, the National Association of Biology Teachers, or any other organization for information about ID or science education before or after voting for the curriculum change. [transcript references].

While there is no requirement that a school board contact any of the afore-referenced organizations prior to enacting a curriculum change, in this case a simple glance at any one of their websites for additional information about ID and any potential it may have to improve science education would have provided helpful information to Board members who admittedly had no comprehension whatsoever of ID. As [Plaintiffs’ science education expert] Dr. Alters’ expert testimony demonstrated, all of these organizations have information about teaching evolution readily available on the internet and they include statements opposing the teaching of ID. [transcript reference].

[snip]

r. Defendants Presented No Convincing Evidence that They were Motived by Any Valid Secular Purpose

Although Defendants attempt to persuade this Court that each Board member who voted for the biology curriculum change did so for the secular purposed of improving science education and to exercise critical thinking skills, their contentions are simply irreconcilable with the record evidence. Their asserted purposes are a sham, and they are accordingly unavailing, for the reasons that follow.

We initially note that the Supreme Court has instructed that while courts are “normally deferential to a State’s articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham.” Edwards, 482 U.S. at 586-87 (citing Wallace, 472 U.S. at 64)(Powell, J., concurring); id. at 75 (O’Connor, J., concurring in judgment). Although as noted Defendants have consistently asserted that the ID Policy was enacted for the secular purposes of improving science education and encouraging students to exercise critical thinking skills, the Board took none of the steps that school officials would take if these stated goals had truly been their objective.

The Board consulted no scientific materials. The Board contacted no scientists or scientific organizations. The Board failed to consider the views of the District’s science teachers. The Board relied solely on legal advice from two organizations with demonstrably religious, cultural, and legal missions, the Discovery Institute and the TMLC. Moreover, Defendants’ asserted secular purpose of improving science education is belied by the fact that most if not all of the Board members who voted in favor of the biology curriculum change conceded that they still do not know, nor have they ever known, precisely what ID is. To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop is ludicrous.

Finally, although Defendants have unceasingly attempted in vain to distance themselves from their own actions and statements, which culminated in repetitious, untruthful testimony, such a strategy constitutes additional strong evidence of improper purpose under the first prong of the Lemon test. [That is, the statute or government action must have a secular legislative purpose.] As exhaustively detailed herein, the thought leaders on the Board made it their considered purpose to inject some form of creationism into the science classrooms, and by the dint of their personalities and persistence they were able to pull the majority of the Board along in their collective wake.

Any asserted secular purposes by the Board are a sham and are merely secondary to a religious objective. McCreary, 125 S. Ct. at 2735; accord, e.g., Santa Fe, 530 U.S. at 308 (“it is . . . the duty of the courts to ‘distinguish a sham secular purpose from a sincere one.’” (citation omitted)); Edwards, 482 U.S. at 586-87 (“While the Court is normally deferential to a State’s articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham.”). Defendants’ previously referenced flagrant and insulting falsehoods to the Court provide sufficient and compelling evidence for us to deduce that any allegedly secular purposes that have been offered in support of the ID Policy are equally insincere.

Accordingly, we find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom, in violation of the Establishment Clause.

[The next article in this series is: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Michael Behe's Testimony]

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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The Crackpot Index, by John Baez

THIS HAS BEEN on the internet for years, but it’s always good to remind you that it exists: The Crackpot Index, by John Baez.

Although the Index is specifically about “revolutionary” physics theories, it works quite well (with trivial modifications, like substituting Darwin for Einstein) for evaluating all the pseudo-scientific rubbish that’s constantly flying around.

The website begins by telling us that the Index is “A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics.” Each alleged “discovery” starts out getting:

A -5 point starting credit. [That's a charitable minus five points.]

1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.

2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.

3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.

It gets progressively funnier as it goes along:

11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)

18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).

30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.

34. 40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

You get the idea. There’s a Wikipedia article about the creator of the Index: John C. Baez, which informs us that he’s a mathematical physicist at the University of California, Riverside, with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Princeton (1982) and a Ph.D. from MIT (1986). And: Joan Baez is his cousin.

So if you feel insulted because your favorite bit of creationism scores high on the Crackpot Index, send your complaints to Dr. Baez, not to us.

Copyright © 2008. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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First of July: Natural Selection’s Birthday

The Natural History Museum in London says: Happy Birthday natural selection. Excerpts:

Evolution by natural selection was an idea revealed to the world 150 years ago tomorrow, by 2 men, the famous Charles Darwin, and the not so famous Alfred Russel Wallace.

The news has not yet penetrated into deepest Louisiana. Nevertheless:

Wallace and Darwin both came up with biology’s most important concept and their theory was presented to the Linnean Society in London on 1 July 1858.

That was, of course, just the beginning. A year later, Darwin published Origin of Species, on which he had been working for 20 years. Next year is the 150th anniversary of that event.

Scientists had been looking for an explanation of how and why there was such an amazing variety of life on Earth.

Wallace and Darwin explained this diversity through the idea that species evolve by a process called natural selection.

At the end of the article are several links to a great deal of additional information. Send the article to someone in Louisiana. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

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Louisiana Legislature Used Creation Science Witnesses

HAVE YOU WONDERED how the Louisiana legislature could have been so spectacularly bone-headed when they overwhelmingly passed their anti-evolution law? We’ve been wondering too, and we’ve found a piece of the puzzle.

From The Town Talk, which describes itself as “Serving Alexandria, Pineville, and Central Louisiana,” we have Origins of life education law prompts debate. Here are some excerpts, with bold added for emphasis:

Educators say the Louisiana Science Education Act will have no initial impact on Rapides Parish students, although opponents say it opens the door to teach religion and creationism in public school classrooms.

Fine, then they tell about the factions on both sides. Very journalistic. But this got our attention:

Louisiana College’s Wade Warren, assistant dean of the college and associate professor of biology, supports the law.

He said he thinks people who are upset by the bill have not read it. Warren said opponents argue that the new law pushes intelligent design and creationism into the classroom, and it doesn’t.

The professor at the private Baptist college in Pineville said he liked the bill because it allows teachers to teach current science information in a field that moves fast.

Really? He’s an “associate professor of biology” and he actually liked the bill? So we checked out Louisiana College in Pineville, La. That’s located where the newspaper we’re quoting from is also located, so we see a natural affinity here. When we click on About LC we learn that the degrees offered are: Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Bachelor of Social Work, Bachelor of General Studies. Fine. Not every school offers graduate-level science degrees. We also learn:

Louisiana College is a private, Baptist coeducational college of liberal arts and sciences with selected professional programs.

Also fine. This is America. From there we click on Identity & Mission, where we read this:

The mission of Louisiana College is to provide a liberal arts education characterized by academic excellence, a commitment to the preeminence of the Lord Jesus, an allegiance to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and a passion for changing the world for Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

[skip]

The Holy Bible is truth without any mixture of error. The college seeks to view all areas of knowledge from a distinctively Christian perspective and integrate Biblical truth thoroughly with each academic discipline.

Well, this too is fine. That’s how they like it and it’s up to them. But we noted above that they offer a degree they call “Bachelor of Science.” What is that? We have to wonder, given the scriptural orientation of Louisiana College, whether the biology they teach is essentially “creation science.”

They tell us more here: Division of Natural Sciences. We learn that Dr. Wade Warren, the man quoted above, is indeed the Coordinator, Department of Biology; Assistant Professor of Biology, and that department has three other members besides Dr. Warren.

So we keep digging. We click on a link to a pdf file named Major and Minor Requirements and Course Descriptions for the Department of Biology. It’s eight pages long, and a search on either “evolution” or “Darwin” produces no hits. “Natural selection” gets two hits. Once in a course on “Cell Function and Plant Diversity,” and another in a course on “Ecological Interactions and Animal Diversity.” Neither course seems to specifically teach the theory of evolution, but it’s difficult to judge without knowing the textbooks they use.

So we read the whole eight-page document. There are some apparently detailed courses, but we don’t see anything that suggests they teach the theory of evolution. Unless we learn otherwise, we strongly suspect that they don’t teach anything that might contradict Genesis.

Why, you are wondering, is the Curmudgeon spending his time exploring the biology curriculum of a small (1,056 students) Baptist college in Louisiana? It’s because the story we’re discussing tells us this:

[Dr. Wade] Warren was among three LC professors who testified in Baton Rouge on the [creationism-friendly] bill.

Whoa! Three legislative witnesses from one Baptist college? Yes, and the legislature apparently knew just what was going on. The newspaper story continues:

While there [testifying in Baton Rouge], he [Wade Warren] said some in the science community testified after the LC professors that there was no controversy about evolution.

But a senator pointed out that there was controversy just in the room among the science educators.

Yes, the presence of “science educators” from a bible-based college will certainly do that. The article goes on about what Wade Warren told the legislature:

“Not all evidence does that [support Darwinism],” Warren said.

He said he sees where teachers would be fearful to bring up evidence that does not support the Darwin model.

Warren said he does not understand why some in the science community are upset with the bill.

“I don’t know what they are afraid of,” he said.

So there you have it, Curmudgeon fans. The Louisiana legislature loaded up the hearings on their new “science” bill with testimony from such as Wade Warren. Now you know.

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