Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Intelligently Decided

John Jones, a federal judge appointed by President Bush, has struck down the Dover, PA, school board's creationist policies. "Smackdown" might actually be more appropriate. The ruling was so clear, so uncowed, so matter-of-fact, that it offers a template for how the left ought to start addressing the wacko Christian right that has managed to erode the scientific and cognitive underpinnings of this nation's entire educational system.

Look at what he says about testimony from supporters of so-called "Intelligent Design."

although Buckingham, Bonsell, and other defense witnesses denied the reports in the news media and contradicted the great weight of the evidence about what transpired at the June 2004 Board meetings, the record reflects that these witnesses either testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath on several occasions, and are accordingly not credible on these points.
They "lied outright" and are "not credible." Would a Democrat be so bald? I'm tempted to say that's not a rhetorical question, but a plea. The case, Jones wrote, brought out "compelling evidence that Bonsell and Buckingham sought to conceal the blatantly religious purpose behind the ID Policy."

The proponents of "Intelligent Design," in other words, had a religious intent, denied they had religious intent and actively worked to conceal the reality that they had religious intent. And Jones called them on it. He didn't whine. He didn't scold. He didn't even go out of his way to condemn. He simply stated the clear, irrefutable facts.

Here's the conclusion of his ruling, in its entirety:
The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.

To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs’ rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants’ actions.

Defendants’ actions in violation of Plaintiffs’ civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.
Jones blunders, in my admittedly atheistic view, by deeming it "ironic" that those who tout their own religiosity would act unethically in defense of that religion. Jones has confused religion with morality. The proponents of "Intelligent Design" are not espousing Jesusian behavior, they are espousing Christian theology. There's nothing ironic about their willingness to sin in doing so. If anything, he could have substituted the phrase "time-honored." Also, it would have been nice if Jones had pointed out that the "bona fide" and "deeply held" beliefs of "intelligent design"'s proponents are not mitigating factors, but in fact the root of the problem. "Intelligent design" isn't their belief's side effect, but its weaponization. Biblical fundamentalism leads inevitably to creationism, which leads inevitably to anti-Darwinism which has been led by the forces of social selection (i.e., the courts) to "intelligent design." In other words, Jones is wrong when he implies that "intelligent design" is a random mutation; it is, in fact, a survival mechanism that has been selected for by environmental factors. If Jones were interested in making me utterly happy, he might also have pointed out the logical problem with a theory that explains complexity by attributing it to an unexplained complex being (i.e., alien or deity).

That said, Jones nailed this one as well as we could have hoped for in Bush's America of 2005. He refutes the "god of the gaps" by noting that a scientific theory's incompleteness does not constitute a fatal failure. If it did, of course, science itself would not be able to exist. And Jones also denies "intelligent design" the very camouflage it has sought all along: The notion that "ID" is just another scientific theory. Jones has not only made the point that "ID" is not science, he has revealed the contortions its proponents have undergone to portray it as science.

Not only are its proponents liars, the theory itself is fundamentally dishonest.

But what's so truly heart-breaking about Jones's ruling is that it's the epistemological equivalent of Nixon going to China. As unacceptable as the Christian right will find this ruling, can you imagine the reaction if a Democratic judge, appointed by Bill Clinton, had issued it?

Frankly, I have a hard time imagining it myself. And part of the reason for that is that Democrats long ago embraced this asinine notion of universal niceness and baseless respect that compels them to entertain every proposition and consider every position. It's exactly that tolerance -- there, I said it -- that allowed George Bush to get elected. Because a nation that understood how to draw lines between bullshit and reality would have laughed Bush off the stage at the first Republican primary. Instead, we've taught our children that everyone deserves respect, there are no dumb questions, everyone's opinions count and all this other garbage that flings our cognitive doors wide open for the stampeding ranks of the horseshit parade.

Judge John Jones sounds like what a Republican used to sound like -- the kind of guy who didn't have time or patience or respect for liars and prevaricators and dummies. We don't have enough of those Republicans around any more, and it's nice to see one poke his head up in a political shooting war as fierce as evolution. But what we really need is for Democrats to renounce the emotion-based, self-exalting, anything-goes ethos perfected by President Bush to the long-lasting detriment of this nation and the world.

In other words, as Jones has reminded us, what the country needs now is for Democrats to embrace some good, old-fashioned, American conservatism.

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