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Life After Dover

Before the Dover trial concludes, I want to offer some remarks about what I take will be its long-term significance. I want to do this now so that critics won’t be in a position to accuse me of spinning or rationalizing the outcome of the trial once it is reached (of course, they’ll still find fault, but that’s par for the course).

As I see it, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. The Dover policy, in which students are informed that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People is in their library, is upheld.
  2. The Dover policy is overturned but the scientific status of ID is left unchallenged.
  3. The Dover policy is not only overturned but ID is ruled as nonscientific.

For what it’s worth, my subjective probabilities are that outcome 1. has about a 20% probability, outcome 2. has about an 70% probability, and outcome 3. has less than a 10% probability. (Part of what prompts these numbers is that the ACLU is completely outmanning the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover policy. When I was an expert witness in the case, TMLC had one full-time person on the case and two or three part-timers. The ACLU, by contrast, had at least twelve full-timers on the case.)

Of course, I regard 1. as the best outcome for ID. That’s not to say I think the Dover policy is particularly astute. Indeed, that’s why the ACLU has come to this case both guns blazing, namely, because the policy is less than optimally formulated and they hope that they can take down not only the policy but also ID with it (their model is what happened to creationism in Edwards v. Aguillard in the 80s).

Fortunately, ID is in a much stronger position scientifically than creationism, so the ACLU faces a much tougher opponent than back then (go, for instance, here and here). Unfortunately, members of the Dover school board have, through their actions, conflated ID with an apparent religious agenda. For instance, it doesn’t help the ID side that William Buckingham, then a member of the Dover school board, in trying to get the Dover policy adopted, remarked: “Two thousand years ago somebody died on the cross, can’t somebody stand up for him?” (Go here.)

If the policy is upheld, it will embolden school boards, legislators, and grass roots organizations to push for intelligent design in the public school science curriculum. As a consequence, this case really could be a Waterloo for the other side.

But will outcome 2. or 3. constitute a Waterloo for ID? Outcome 2. certainly won’t. It may make policy makers more cautious about how they incorporate ID into educational policy. But it certainly won’t stop them, especially with Santorum language in the Federal Government’s education policy (go here).

That leaves outcome 3. Although I would hate to see this happen, mainly because of all the young people who would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins, this would hardly spell the end of ID. For one thing, ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries. The idea that ID is purely an “American thing” can no longer be sustained. Interest is growing internationally and it will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of the trial. Also, ID is of great interest to college and graduate students, so these ideas will continue to be discussed.

But the most important thing to understand about this case is that the significance of a court case depends not merely on the judge’s decision but also on the cultural forces that serve as the backdrop against which the decision is made. Take the Scopes Trial. In most persons minds, it represents a decisive victory for evolution. And yet, in the actual trial, the decision went against Scopes (he was convicted of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolutionary theory).

Thus, unlike outcome 1., which would be a Waterloo for the other side, I don’t see outcome 3. as anything like a Waterloo for our side. It would make life in the short-term more difficult, and it certainly would not be pleasant to have to endure the gloating by the other side, but the work of ID would continue. In fact, it might continue more effectively than under outcome 1., which might convince people that ID has already won the day when in fact ID still has a long way to go in developing its scientific and intellectual program.

To sum up, we might say that outcome 1. would be a recipe for complacency, outcome 2. would encourage us to take greater care and try again, and option 3. would inspire us to work that much harder for ID’s ultimate success. I trust that Providence will bring about the outcome that will best foster ID’s ultimate success. The important thing is ID’s intellectual vitality.

Whether favor or adversity is, at least for now, the best tonic for ID’s intellectual vitality remains to be seen.

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19 Responses to Life After Dover

  1. I couldn’t agree anymore with you, Bill.

  2. The only thing I worry about is someone actually finding a counterexample to irreducible complexity or specified complexity. Though no system has been rigourously shown to meet these criteria, it is intuitively obvious that objects in nature display these properties.

    The rest is rhetoric – who cares who wins in court?

  3. What about #4: The court orders the Dover school board to comply with DI’s policy and make the statement optional?

    ;-)

  4. Have more faith, Bill!

    This is all about Judge Jones. If it were about the merits of the case we know we’d win. It’s about politics. Look at the Cobb county case. A sticker that did no more than mention a plain fact, that evolution is theory not a fact, was ruled a violation of the establishment clause. Incredible! A local school board saying evolution is a theory is, in some twisted logic that just makes me shudder, a law regarding an establishment of religion. Har har hardy har har. Right. In a pig’s ass (pardon my french). Clinton appointed Judge Clarence Cooper made a ridiculous ruling that was faithful to the left wing overlords that he serves.

    Judge John E. Jones on the other hand is a good old boy brought up through the conservative ranks. He was state attorney for D.A.R.E, an Assistant Scout Master with extensively involved with local and national Boy Scouts of America, political buddy of Governor Tom Ridge (who in turn is deep in George W. Bush’s circle of power), and finally was appointed by GW hisself. Senator Rick Santorum is a Pennsylvanian in the same circles (author of the “Santorum Language” that encourages schools to teach the controversy) and last but far from least, George W. Bush hisself drove a stake in the ground saying teach the controversy. Unless Judge Jones wants to cut his career off at the knees he isn’t going to rule against the wishes of his political allies. Of course the ACLU will appeal. This won’t be over until it gets to the Supreme Court. But now we own that too.

    Politically biased decisions from ostensibly apolitical courts are a double edged sword that cuts both ways. The liberals had their turn at bat. This is our time now. We won back congress in 1996. We won back the White House in 2000. We won back the courts in 2005. Now we can start undoing all the damage that was done by the flower children. The courts have been the last bastion of liberal power for 5 years. It was just a matter of time. The adults are firmly back in charge. The few wilted flower children that refused to grow up will have to satisfy themselves by following the likes of Cindy Sheehan around ineffectually whining about this, that, and the other thing. They’ve been marginalized.

  5. Someone can think both Sheehan and Dembski are correct, Mr. Scot.

  6. If ID becomes a set of “banned books”, that will leave a certain segments of the country in a quandry, wanting to both “ban books” and encourage reading “banned books” at the same time.

    I can see ID being the next set of samizdat that goes around, with students desperately wanting to read what it is that their school administrators are trying to hide from them.

  7. “Someone can think both Sheehan and Dembski are correct, Mr. Scot.”

    Not in my Marine Corps.

  8. “Someone can think both Sheehan and Dembski are correct, Mr. Scot.”

    Comment by jaredl — September 30, 2005 @ 3:24 pm

    Jared, although I probably share a lot of Dave’s political views, I agree with you on this one. I enjoy some political back and forth on another forum and when I’ve raised ID as a topic, my usual adversaries often become my strongest allies in the debate. We shouldn’t assume anything about one’s politics or religious views when discussing ID.

  9. The problem the other side has is that they know that most people don’t have much sympathy for Darwinian ideas, but they acquiesce in the face of expert opinion. It’s like Jim Carey’s character in “The Truman Show”. He knows something is not right, but everyone around him keeps telling him to deny his gut instinct and the many little clues that contradict the official story line. Finally with a little outside help, his desire to know the truth overcomes his overseers’ desperate and even violent attempts to keep him in the dark. These attempts to suppress the truth actually harden his resolve and in the final scene he tears away the veil.

  10. GOOD analogy, Russ.

    But will it fit on a t-shirt? ;-)

  11. L. A. Times: “‘Nearly 2,000 years ago, someone died on a cross for us,’ said board member William Buckingham, who urged his colleagues to include intelligent design in ninth-grade science classes. ‘Shouldn’t we have the courage to stand up for him?’”

    I was unaware of this. Had to see it for myself (simultaneously rolling eyes and shaking head).

    David

  12. Is there anything about someone dying on a cross in the statement read to students or in the book “Of Pandas and People”?

    Nope. Buckingham could have brought a stack of bibles into the board meetings but until he brings them into the classroom it’s immaterial. What counts is what’s in the statement read to students and the ID book mentioned in the statement.

    Suppose someone at the board meeting declared that Darwin’s theory of evolution was in accord with their religion. Does that then mean that person’s connection of evolution and religion renders evolution a subject that violates the establishment clause? I think it’s safe to say that’s a resounding no unless one can establish that what’s actually taught in the classroom corresponds to religion.

    This is pretty simple stuff to explain away. I don’t think it’s going to be much of a challenge for Judge Jones to justify a decision in favor of the defendants. Certainly a much easier job than it was for Judge Cooper to justify a decision in plaintiff’s favor in Cobb county. Coopers decision was the most tortured judicial logic I’ve ever had the displeasure of decyphering. It made Bill Clinton’s “that depends on what the definition ‘is’ is” downright straightforward in comparison.

  13. Dave,

    I fully agree with you. My point is that he should have been more discreet in front of the media because you know how they like to spin things.

    David

  14. “My point is that he should have been more discreet in front of the media because you know how they like to spin things.”

    I believe Buckingham was talking about creation science, not ID. Buckingham wanted honest-to-God biblical creation taught along with standard evolution theory.

    This is a free country. Buckingham and those like him have to be able to say his true thoughts and we have to deal with it even if it makes things more difficult. It’s true that most people who support ID are theists. Big deal. 80% of the population are theists. It’s to be *expected* on ANY issue that the vast majority of supporters are theists. What’s unusual is when you find an issue where most of the supporters are atheists. For instance, the national academy’s membership is over 70% positive atheists and they are amongst the most vociferous opponents of ID. THEY are the anomaly. The people that are really bringing religion into the ID/evolution debate are atheists. Atheists are a small minority in the general population but just about every single atheist and every atheist group opposes ID. The same is not true for theists.

  15. Ed Brayton argues that the court in the Dover case should make a ruling on what is and is not science.

    http://www.stcynic.com/blog/ar.....e_di_o.php

    I’d comment there but, as is usual for neoDarwinian apologist blogs, I’m banned at Brayton’s blog.

    Ed, in an unsurprising manner, misses the point of the trial completely. The trial is about whether what is being taught at the Dover HS that is religion or not. If it’s religion it’s a violation of the 1st amendment establishment clause.

    Whether or not it is science is totally irrelevant. The constition doesn’t prohibit the establishment of non-science. Buy a clue, Ed.

  16. “The constition doesn’t prohibit the establishment of non-science.”

    Actually Supreme Court Justice Scalia in a dissenting opinion (Aguillar I think) said much the same thing about creation science. He said (paraphrasing from memory) “It would be a shame if a community decided to teach that the earth is flat in public schools. But it wouldn’t be unconstitutional.”

    This is a very important and I couldn’t agree more with Scalia. Teaching religion may be unconstitutional but teaching nonsense isn’t. It doesn’t matter one iota whether ID is valid science or not. All that matters is whether or not it’s an establishment of religion.

  17. Giff

    “The court orders the Dover school board to comply with DI’s policy and make the statement optional?”

    The statement is already optional. Students don’t have to listen to it and their science teachers don’t have to read it.

    Pretty amazing that Darwinian chance worshippers can’t even tolerate an optional two minute statement made by an admin, huh?

    I thought the lefties were supposed to be tolerant and diversity-loving and all that happy crap? Yeah right.

  18. [...] Anticipating something like this might happen, Dembski wrote this a couple of months ago: That leaves outcome 3. Although I would hate to see this happen, mainly because of all the young people who would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins, this would hardly spell the end of ID. For one thing, ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries. The idea that ID is purely an “American thing” can no longer be sustained. Interest is growing internationally and it will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of the trial. Also, ID is of great interest to college and graduate students, so these ideas will continue to be discussed. [...]

  19. [...] William Dembski sees ID becoming transcultural: [...]

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