My new hero…

I guess this is rant week…  Last night, I was watching Nova — something I rarely do.  The show was
"Judgement Day: Intelligent Design On Trial".  You can see much of it
at the PBS website

In general, I made a conscious decision that this blog would not be political or religious in nature, and in general, that’s something I’ll stick to.  But I do have a new personal hero: U.S. District Court Judge John E.
Jones III

First, some background…  To me, Intelligent Design has always been thinly veiled creationism.  But my personal objections to intelligent design have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with science.

Any Scientist knows that they are working with a theory that is an approximation
of reality that seems to hold true under rigorous and repeated testing.  For something to be considered a
valid theory, there are two simple criteria that have to be met:

  1. The theory must make predictions that can be objectively (and repeatedly) tested
  2. The theory must clearly explain previously observed phenomena
     

These tenets of science are non-negotiable — they form the basis of everything Science has ever achieved.  I.D. fails miserably at #1, making few, if any, testable predictions.  In contrast, Darwinian Evolution specifically and accurately predicts transitional fossils such as Tiktaalik
rosae
(a fishy thing from 375 Million years ago that is clearly a mid-way point between a fish and a land-based tetrapod).

But back to the story.  Judge Jones was the appointed judge for the 2005 trial of Tammy
Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al
, AKA the Dover School District Intelligent Design case. 

As some of you are doubtless aware, in 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania
school board established a policy that science teachers would have to read a
statement to biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to
Darwin’s theory of evolution called intelligent design. ID claims that certain features of life are too complex to have
evolved naturally, and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent
agent. A group of parents eventually filed a suit demanding the statement be withdrawn.

Personally, I think the world would be a better place if more people understood the idea of a scientific theory, and I see nothing wrong in opening people’s minds to the fact that new theories may arise that provide a better explanation of the world we live in.  But that clearly was not what was going on here.

What’s interesting is that Judge Jones’s background is rather conservative.  He is a Lutheran and lifelong Republican.  He was appointed to the District Court by George W. Bush (a man quoted as saying that the jury was still out on Evolution).  Prior to the District Court, he was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board where he banned Bad Frog Beer after determining that its label (a frog giving the finger) was in bad taste.  In short, he’d be a perfect candidate to support a religious, rather than fully objective viewpoint.

But Judge Jones pursued the case rationally, dealing only with the issues directly relevant to the case.  Ultimately,  he decided for the plaintiffs, writing in his decision that
intelligent design "cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus
religious, antecedents."

Here are some other quotes from his 139 page ruling:

"After a searching review of the
record and applicable case law, we find that while intelligent design arguments
may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, intelligent
design is not science. We find that intelligent design fails on three different
levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that
intelligent design is science. They are: (1) intelligent design violates the
centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural
causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to intelligent
design, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed
creation science in the 1980s; and (3) intelligent design’s negative
attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

"The disclaimer written by the Dover
School Board singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment,
misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt
its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a
religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to
consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs
students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and
instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere."

and finally:

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

The Nova documentary is great — well worth watching — with some fantastic interviews and in-depth information.  It was co-produced with Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions.  I tip my hat to both of them.

But I’d like to single out Judge Jones as someone worthy of respect.  He’s since endured death threats and blistering attacks in conservative media.  But I’m guessing he sleeps well at night, knowing full well that he approached the case with an open mind, thoughtfully weighing the presented evidence and making his decision accordingly…