Thursday, December 22, 2005

Bad Faith

Federal Judge John Jones has ruled, the old school board in Dover has been voted out, and the town can try to get back to normal. According to a story in The New York Times, many Dover residents are agreeing to disagree: "We're not walking around glaring at each other. We just have different political views on this," stated one resident. A Dover high school student: "We said to one another, 'Let's not let this divide our friendship.'"

Is this an issue where reasonable people can agree to disagree? This issue is over whether intelligent design should be taught as science in public school science classes, and this is absolutely not a situation where two reasonable sides can disagree in good faith. Those who argue that Intelligent Design is scientific and should be taught are badly uninformed, every single one of them, about what modern evolutionary biology actually is. Judge Jones found that the school board members who pushed for Dover's intelligent design policy could not even coherently explain what intelligent design was. As the Judge stated in his opinion:

"Furthermore, Board members somewhat candidly conceded that they lacked sufficient background in science to evaluate ID, and several of them testified with equal frankness that they failed to understand the substance of the curriculum change..." (p. 121)

These board members testified that they hardly looked at the ID book at issue Of Pandas and People, and they testified that they did not "know much about intelligent design." Yet they adopted the curriculum change anyway, over the objection of the science faculty in the district, believing that it would enhance critical thinking. As the Judge also pointed out, Board members lied under oath to conceal their religious motivation for the change. Is this how reasonable people, who can reasonably disagree, behave?

How about the Intelligent Design professionals - people like Michael Behe who are supported by the Discovery Institute? While they may be experts on Intelligent Design, time and again they have demonstrated they they are uninformed about the most basic aspects of the theory they claim to be astutely criticizing. William Dembski is a mathematician and philosopher with no biology training whose arguments frequently demonstrate a misunderstanding of basic evolution; Jonathan Wells has a PhD in biology which he obtained in order to "destroy Darwinism", but he wrote a book, Icons of Evolution which contains misunderstandings that a sophomore biology major studying evolution would find obvious (see this critique of Wells's book); Michael Behe is a biochemist with little formal training in evolution, who allowed himself to be listed as both an author and reviewer of Pandas even though he admitted the book has some serious errors regarding the predictions of evolutionary theory. Yet when asked by the plaintiff's attorney to explain the nature of the errors in the book, Behe's response was the absolutely false statement that evolution doesn't make any predictions.

If you are a reasonable person serious about a critique of evolution, you have to understand it before you debunk it, otherwise you're attacking a straw man.

On one side of this issue, the people of Dover (and all over this country) are acting in bad faith - they are not disagreeing over something reasonable people disagree over. Most of them can't define what intelligent design is, yet, while conceding their ignorance on the issue, insist that it is a valid scientific alternative to evolution. That's bad faith. Most of these same people defend the teaching of intelligent design in religious terms - as Judge Jones pointed out, the vast majority of letters to the local papers discussed this issue in religious terms. "Children should not be taught that we came from monkeys when that's flat-out not true," stated one Dover mother to The New York Times. She could not possibly have any basis other than her religious beliefs for denying the common ancestry of humans and apes. In other words, these people want the teaching of evolution balanced with a doctrine they know to be religious in a science class composed of students who don't all share that religious outlook. That's bad faith.

One side can be just plain wrong. And as demonstrated by Judge Jones, a political friend of Republicans Tom Ridge and Rick Santorum, a George W. Bush judicial appointee who attends a Lutheran church with his wife, reasonable Christian Republicans can only come to one reasonable conclusion - in science class, ID cannot masquerade as science.

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