Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Judgment Day": A PBS Show on the Dover Case

I have just seen the PBS documentary on the Dover, PA, school case on the teaching of intelligent design, a two-hour program broadcast tonight on PBS stations.

The Discovery Institute folks refused to be interviewed for this documentary. Michael Behe also refused to be interviewed.

I think Behe and the Discovery Institute are making a big mistake. As I have indicated on some previous blog posts, it's clear to me that the Dover case was a decisive defeat for the strategy of the ID movement as led by the Discovery Institute. If they cannot blunt the effect of this case, they are dead.

The PBS documentary accurately conveyed the drama, which is clear in the transcripts of the case, of three turning points: the humiliation of Michael Behe through cross-examination, the evidence from the early drafts of the book OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE, and the perjury of the Dover school board members.

Behe was not able to respond effectively when confronted with a stack of articles and books on the evolution of the immune system. He claimed that there were no evolutionary explanations of the immune system. But he could not explain why this research was not worth studying. Behe should have agreed to be interviewed for this documentary to refute this conclusion.

The Dover school board invited students to examine the book OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE for a presentation of "intelligent design theory." A subpoena of the early drafts of the manuscript of the book indicated that the publisher had meticulously replaced all references to the work of "the Creator" with references to "the intelligent designer," and this happened after a Supreme Court decision declaring that teaching "creation science" was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. So here was blatant evidence that "intelligent design" was just a fraudulent disguise for biblical "creationism." The whole strategy of "intelligent design" as pure science and not religious was blown apart by this evidence. The people at the Discovery Institute should have agreed to be interviewed to respond to this evidence.

The school board members in Dover promoting intelligent design lied under oath about how the copies of OF PANDAS AND PEOPLE were purchased. Originally, they said they did not know how this has happened. But eventually, it was revealed that the books were purchased by contributions taken up at a local church by school board members. This deception seriously undermined their case. After all, here are Christians willing to lie under oath to advance their cause!

From the beginning, the Discovery Institute realized that they had a losing case. That's why they withdrew from the case. But this has been such a disaster for the intelligent design movement that their refusal to answer the questions it raises only hurts their cause.

One sees here the fundamental flaw in the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute and the other proponents of intelligent design theory as an alternative to Darwinian science. The main idea in their rhetoric is that intelligent design is not the same as biblical creationism, because intelligent design is science rather than religion, and therefore introducing intelligent design into biology classes in the public schools is not an unconstitutional "establishment of religion." The problem with this strategy, however, became clear in the Dover case: the parents and school board members who argue for teaching "intelligent design" will almost always be creationists using "intelligent design" as a cover for creationism. Once this is made clear, as it was in the Dover case, the rhetorical strategy of the Discovery Institute collapses.

So what should the Discovery Institute have done in the Dover case? They should have offered their expert witnesses as support for the ACLU's case against the Dover school board policy. Their witnesses could have testified that it is fraudulent to use "intelligent design" as a cover for creationism. They could have argued that intelligent design proponents like Michael Behe have actually dismissed the idea of using the Bible as a science textbook as "silly." Moveover, Behe endorses the scientific theory of evolution by common descent with human beings evolving from primate ancestors, which contradicts the creationist view that human beings were "specially" created by God with no primate ancestors. Even now, the Discovery Institute could try to repair the damage from the Dover case by actively campaigning against any claim that creationism is science.

The problem, of course, is that if they were to do this, they would be driving a wedge between intelligent design and creationism that would alienate their creationist supporters, for whom "intelligent design" really is just a cover for "creation."

Some of my other posts on Behe and the Dover case can be found here, here, and here.


John Farrell said...

Excellent points. I was stunned that Fuller and Johnson were the only IDists willing to appear on the show. I really think Behe's credibility is beyond repair at this point.

Anonymous said...

The language you use in the last paragraph, referring to a "wedge between intelligent design and creationism" is good verbal irony, considering that the impetus for Intelligent Design was to drive a "wedge" into the culture of "materialistic" science.

Let's not forget here that the fundamental problem with ID is not only that it isn't science, not only that the Dover school board had a creationist agenda, but that the whole "theory" itself was created ex nihilo for the purpose of advancing a conservative political cause, not for advancing a true understanding of the natural world.

Let us hope that Professor Arnhart is not doing the same. Does Arnhart pick and choose evolutionary facts in order to push a political agenda, or does he simply find that the established observations produced by evolutionary biology happen to be consistent with human nature understood conservatively?

I for one think that both the left and the right apply evolutionary theory incorrectly. The left thinks that all behavior is purely a cause of environment, and that therefore every social norm is a cultural construction. The right takes natural behavior too far, ignores the fact/value distinction of Hume's fork, and argues that what is natural is good or right.

A true political theory would of course take the evolutionary facts as they come (and they are still coming), and use them only to inform policy, not to provide a complete theoretical underpinning for policy.

The claims of science are tentative, necessarily open to revision. These shifting sands provide no solid foundation on which to build a political framework. Knowing this, the Discovery Institute would reverse the process, and build a science on top of a political ideology. Let's hope Arnhart isn't constructing "Darwinian Conservatism" in the same manner.