Media Round-up

Sorry, our posting today is a little delayed because our observer had to come back to Philadelphia to write it up. Here’s a quick look at the media coverage today of Superintendent Richard Nilsen’s appearance:

From the York Daily Record:
Dover teachers frustrated Nilsen
Nilsen doesn’t recall details
Mike Argento’s column, The makings of a bad defense

From AP:
Superintendent: ‘Intelligent design’ not same as creationism

Things that make you go "hmmmm"

For a group trying to claim that its decision to teach intelligent design was not religiously motivated, the Dover Area School District has made some curious choices for its defense.

First, the district is being represented pro bono by the Thomas More Center, which, according to its website, is “dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. Our purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square.” (italics ours) Interesting that they’d volunteer to defend the school district merely over an alleged “scientific” theory….

Today’s Salon has a great interview with the Thomas More Center’s founder, president, and chief council Richard Thompson about the Dover case and his motivations. (You can read the whole article if you agree to see an ad.)

Scheduled to testify on Friday for the defense is Dick Carpenter, an assistant professor of leadership, research and foundations at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He also happens to be the former Education Policy Analyst for Focus on the Family, which believes that “the ultimate purpose in living is to know and glorify God and to attain eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He held this position from 2000-2002, according to his vita.

He continues to be affiliated with Focus on the Family as a lecturer in their “Love Won Out” program, which is focused on “promoting the truth that homosexuality is preventable and treatable — a message routinely silenced today. …Individuals don’t have to be gay.” Dr. Carpenter’s sessions are called “Why is What They’re Teaching So Dangerous?” and “Teaching Captivity? Addressing the Pro-Gay Agenda in Your School.”

Now as a general matter we certainly don’t have any objection to religious groups being involved in public discussions or in litigation. But we don’t see any reason for them to pretend that they are not promoting their particular religious viewpoints when they in fact are. Of course it becomes rather problematic when a group promoting a particular religious point of view decides to advance that religious viewpoint by supporting government officials who are doing the same thing. And to do it while pretending that they are not doing it…. Hmmmm.

Perhaps there should be a little less posting of the Ten Commandments and a little more honoring the commandment to “not bear false witness.”

A quiet day in court

Calling the day’s proceedings “short” and “abbreviated,” Judge Jones ended a two-hour stint just before 4:45 p.m. after hearing testimony from one witness. Dr. Richard D. Nilsen, the Dover Area School District superintendent, was called to the stand by defense attorney Patrick Gillen at 2 p.m.

Nilsen’s testimony focused on his recollection of the time period from January 2002 through fall 2004 at the Dover Area School District. His attorney presented Nilsen with a number of documents and asked that Nilsen identify and discuss the documents. Among the documents was a memo written by former Dover Area School District principal Trudy Peterman. In the April 2003 memo, Peterman advised district officials that the science teachers in Dover Area High School were teaching both evolution and creationism. Nilsen identified another document as a letter from Messiah College advertising a seminar on “Creationism and the Law” – a seminar to which he sent his assistant superintendent.

In addition to Nilsen’s testimony about a variety of documents, Nilsen also testified about various board meetings. He recalled one board meeting when former school board director Bill Buckingham’s wife, Charlotte Buckingham, spoke. Nilsen said Mrs. Buckingham spoke during the public comment period and read from the Bible. Nilsen testified that she “rambled on” and “there was no point.” He further testified that it was inappropriate and embarrassing.

Nilsen’s testimony will continue at 9 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 21, 2005.

Submitted by Paula K. Knudsen, ACLU-PA Staff Attorney

The Wedge Strategy: The Next Generation

According to a deposition by Foundation for Thought and Ethics founder Jon A. Buell, Dr. Michael Behe is listed as a co-author of the 2005 edition of Pandas, entitled Design of Life. Behe, of course, denied this on Tuesday, but said he “might be in the future.” The FTE publicity materials should probably be corrected, then.

Unlike the defense counsel, Judge Jones thought the text of the new edition to be “highly relevant” to the case.

Like a moving target, the language in Design of Life will ‘evolve’ from the 1993 and 1987 Pandas incarnations, which dropped the term creationism in favor of ID. Both books explore the gaps in the fossil record, which the theory claims are not just gaps in the record, but actual gaps or “transitional links.”

The new edition omits the terms intelligent design and intelligent agency and replaces them both with “sudden emergence,” meaning that “various forms of life began abruptly [with] features already intact: fish [suddenly emerging with] fins and scales, birds with feathers” and, as the new edition adds, “mammals with fur and mammary glands.”

So, Rothschild inquired, will we “be back in a few years for the sudden emergence trial?”

Judge Jones responded: “Not on my docket.”

Submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer

Faith and science, livin’ in perfect harmony

Here are a few pieces worth noting regarding faith and science.

First, Jeremy Gunn of our Freedom of Religion and Belief project had this piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Then there are two other articles worth noting, “Darwin Goes to Church” from the Washington Post and “Area clergy make room for evolution with the divine” from the Patriot News. (The latter may not be up much longer because pennlive.com pulls down articles after about two weeks.)

Michael Behe’s Testimony

For those not content to read second-hand accounts of Michael Behe’s testimony on the “science” of intelligent design, here’s the transcript of the first morning of his three-day appearance on the stand.

This is just his testimony, not the cross-examintation, which is where it really got interesting.

Here’s a quick roundup of some of the coverage of Behe’s testiony.

From the York Daily Record:

A test nobody wants to take: Neither side is interested in trying to prove intelligent design.
Behe insists proof absent
Of Behe and mammary glands (another gem from columnist Mike Argento)

From Slate:
Neo-creationists and their embarrassing ancestors

From the New York Times:
Witness Defends Broad Definition of Science

And an AP interview with Michael Behe.

All in the name of science? Part 2

During today’s cross-examination, Eric Rothschild returned to our favorite subjects of bacterial flagellum and irreducible complexity. (This writer vastly prefers them to blood clotting cascades. But, I digress.)

Rothschild introduced an article written by James Curtsinger in the Minnesota Daily (and posted in response to an earlier blog entry).

While you’re at PubMed [Curtsinger writes] try searching for “bacterial flagella secretion.” One of the resulting papers, by SI Aizawa (2001), reports that some nasty bacteria possess a molecular pump, called a type III secretion system, or TTSS, that injects toxins across cell membranes.
Much to Dr. Behe’s distress, the TTSS is a subset of the bacterial flagellum. That’s right, a part of the supposedly irreducible bacterial “outboard motor” has a biological function!

“Did you agree to that?” asked Rothschild. “I don’t recall,” replied Behe, indicating that if TTSS is a subset, bacterial flagella are still irreducibly complex and must be the product of a designer. “When you see a purposeful arrangement of parts,” said Behe, today, “it bespeaks to a designer.”

Rothschild then brought up the gradual process of “slow design,” a subject of Tuesday’s testimony. This, Rothschild shared, “is what I experienced in my kitchen.”

But, seriously folks…

Rothschild continued, “At some time, the bacteria would not have all of these parts. That is a phenomenon of both natural selection and ID, correct?”

Behe disagreed. “Until it has all of its parts, it’s problematic to call it flagellum… No one has said how you could get from TTSS to flagellum. We see nothing that bears on the question of natural selection or random mutation…The crucial question is mechanism.”

“In evolution, the mechanism suggested is natural selection.” Rothschild responded, asking, “What is the mechanism suggested [by] slow design?” According to Behe, “we don’t have a description of the mechanism [in evolutionary theory]. We do in intelligent design.”

We do?

Rothschild: “The only way that we know that a designer exists is that objects that are designed exist?” Behe agreed. That seemed good enough for him.

Behe has written in Darwin’s Black Box that there could be both multiple designers and/or competing designers. Rothschild asked today if there have been “any new irreducible complex systems [that have emerged] in the last five…” ten, fifty or 100 years.

Behe: “All studies considered are much older than that.”
Rothschild: We “can’t infer from that that the intelligent designer still exists.”
“Correct,” said Behe
Rothschild: “Is that what you want taught to high school students?”

But, we learned today, Behe has proposed a way to test the theory of irreducible complexity in his article ‘Reply to my Critics,’ published in the November 2001 issue of Biology and Philosophy.

In fact, intelligent design is open to direct experimental rebuttal… In Darwin’s Black Box I claimed that the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex and so required deliberate intelligent design. The flip side of this claim is that the flagellum can’t be produced by natural selection acting on random mutation, or any other unintelligent process. To falsify such a claim, a scientist could go into the laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under some selective pressure (for mobility, say), grow it for ten thousand generations, and see if a flagellum – or any equally complex system – was produced. If that happened, my claims would be neatly disproven.

Rothschild asked Behe if he could claim that his own theory is “well tested?”

“Yes you can… from the inductive argument. When you see a purposeful arrangement of parts we always see that as designed.”

Yet, Behe proposes a test, which would in his estimation take about 2 years. Has he himself undertaken it? “I was advising people who are skeptical that this is the test…I think I’m persuaded by the evidence.”

In fact, no intelligent design proponent has undertaken it. Presumably, this is because they are also persuaded by “inductive reasoning.” But, here’s the thing with their concept: it starts with a functioning organisms, say a bacterial flagellum and “works backwards by removing parts.” If the precursor is not functional this demonstrates irreducible complexity. But, evolution doesn’t work this way; it starts from the precursor and moves forward. Even Behe admitted – in ‘Reply to My Critics’ and in court – this is a “serious weakness,” a “defect” in the theory. Any immediate plans to repair it? No.

And, yet, when we’re talking evolution, say, of the immune system…

According to Behe “there is no detailed rigorous explanation [explaining that the immune system could] arise from random mutation or natural selection.” So, Rothschild offered Behe 58 articles written over a 20-year period, a half dozen books and several chapters out of immunology texts all addressing this issue.

But, “not only would [Behe] need to see it mutation by mutation…[he] would also want to see relevant information such as population, selective value, detrimental effects…” He described these works as “analogous to the theory of aether…working within the aegis of a theory.”

Like using the terms of the theory to prove the theory? That sounds familiar.

See, Behe studies peer review articles about cells and concludes that they “strongly look like a purposeful arrangement of parts, a hallmark of intelligent design.” But, he “surveys the scientific literature and sees no evidence for a Darwinian explanation.” Of course, “the hypothesis of design is tested differently than Darwinian evolution,” claims Behe. Like… how scientists tested aether?

submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer, ACLU of PA