Cue the judge

BeheCoverA busy time of travel prevented me from seeing “Darwin in the Dock,” Margaret Talbot’s crackling New Yorker narrative of the intelligent-design debates in the courtroom of federal judge John E. Jones III.

Talbot’s essay, which appeared in the December 5 issue, has not appeared online, though The New Yorker did offer this Q&A with the author. Her reporting is impressive in its breadth, though there are a few clunkers in the narrative.

For one, she sounds smitten with the judge:

During the trial, which did not have a jury, Jones sometimes joked, in his appealingly growly baritone, about all the science he and everyone else in the courtroom were contending with. One morning, he deadpanned that stopping for an early lunch break would allow for a “nice, long afternoon of expert testimony.” . . . Jones has the rugged charm of a nineteen-forties movie star; he sounded and looked like a cross between Robert Mitchum and William Holden. (According to a local paper, the Judge’s wife thinks that Tom Hanks should play him — a not entirely idle bit of speculative casting, since a representative from Paramount Pictures sat through the whole trial, filing dispatches to a potential screenwriter.)

At another point, her report sounds like one of those breathless Supreme Court back-and-forths that Nina Totenberg rat-a-tat-tats her way through on National Public Radio. Here she describes an exchange between the plaintiffs’ attorney and biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University:

When [Eric] Rothschild added “the entire human body” to his list, saying, “Now that’s an amazing biological structure,” Behe gazed upward dreamily and joked, “I’m thinking of examples.”

“Hopefully, not mine!” Rothschild responded.

“Rest assured,” came the reply.

Oh, the hilarity!

Then there is this paragraph, which reads more like a parody of a New Yorker writer wandering into flyover country and living to write about it:

At the diner on route 74, where I stopped for a milkshake one night, a rack of books for sale featured Christian marriage manuals and Tim LaHaye novels. At a revival meeting at the Mt. Royal Full Gospel Church, I saw a woman, white hair coiled atop her head, speak in tongues and recall an episode when God had dangled her over Hell. At the same time, many of the town’s residents shared [biologist] Kenneth Miller’s definition of science and the Supreme Court’s current understanding of the separation of church and state.

Nevertheless, Talbot understands the cultural stakes in this debate, and she delivers an especially damning paragraph about the Discovery Institute’s confusing stance toward teaching I.D. in public schools:

If intelligent design is defeated in the Dover case, its backers will undoubtedly find subtler ways of promoting it. The Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design think tank based in Seattle, has distanced itself from the Dover case, saying that it prefers a “teach the controversy” approach to the blunt advertisement for intelligent design that Dover adopted. Indeed, during a public forum at the American Enterprise Institute last month, Mark Ryland, the director of the Discovery Institute’s Washington, D.C., office, said that his organization had “never set out to have school boards or schools get involved in this issue. We’ve never encouraged people to do it . . . We have unfortunately gotten sucked into it because we have a lot of experts in this issue that people are interested in. When asked for our opinion we always tell people, Don’t teach intelligent design. There’s no curriculum developed for it. Your teachers are likely to be hostile towards it. . . . If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence against Darwin’s theory. Teach it dialectically.” Ryland was being disingenuous: Two Discovery Institute fellows, David DeWolf and Stephen Meyer, are co-authors of a book called “Intelligent Design in Public School Science Curricula,” which concludes, “School boards have the authority to permit, and even encourage, teaching about design theory as an alternative to Darwinian evolution — and this includes the use of textbooks such as ‘Of Pandas and People.’”

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  • Herb

    I fail to understand why ID is considered to be “religious” and therefore horribly out of place in the school, and yet the possibility of aliens being the origin of life on earth is “scientific” — see Francis Crick (sorry, but I’ve only got this one link on him, but this theory , admittedly one of many, is widespread — Seems to me that a lot of media people want God to exist only as a nice crutch in the minds of people, and wipe out anything resembling objective evidence that He might be around after all.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Interestingly, M. Behe on a news channel said it was the evolutionists and the courts who say ID points to God and therefore is religious. He said it could also point to other answers as far afield as aliens doing it.
    Another point:: I just saw on the internet a story about a just issued federal court (6th District, I think) shooting down the ACLU on a religious issue unanimously. And SHOCKING, the court apparently took the time to read the First Amendment and in its decision derisively informed the ACLU that the phrase “separation of Church and State” is not there. Nor is the phrase “wall of separation”–which came from a comment Jefferson made in a letter. The court said accomodation and co-operation without there being a state church is clearly what the writers, founders, and voters who ratfied the Bill of Rights meant. Is the BIG, BIG LIE foisted on us by the liberal media and liberal politicians and biased courts finally going to be buried???

  • Avram

    John, Herb, both of you, if you want to know why Judge Jones said ID is religious in nature, you really ought to read the decision, because he spells it out in easy-to-follow detail.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Avram–I think what bothers me most about the whole debate–and as I’ve said here or elsewhere-as a Catholic I have no trouble with evolution–it is almost an extension of Genesis if you believe the words in the Bible that to God a thousand years is but a day–He can sculpt his creation any way he wants to-even using aliens.
    Maybe the problem I have is that the custom of lumping every kind of science together bothers me.
    There is the science wherein tests can be replicated over and over again in a laboratory or test tube–that is not, as I understand it, what Darwin’s Theory and the Theory of Evolution is based on. Thus if a Theory is adamantly promoted isn’t that more akin to Dogmatism than science. Shouldn’t there be two science courses available to make this abundantly clear -say one semester of physical or laboratory science and another of “theoretical” science where all theories can be examined from all sides from evolution, to intelligent design to flat earth to alien insemination.
    And all this should be hashed out by school committees, science teachers, parents, etc. NOT make lawyer-judges who are experts on the law arbiters of what science is or is not (judges are as qualified as the religious figures were in Galileo”s time–and apparently just as narrow-mindedly dogmatic).

  • Avram

    John, why do you think school committees or parents know any more than judges about what science is or isn’t?

    As far as your “two kinds of science” model goes, it’s faulty. When Newton proposed that comets are bound by the sun’s gravity, he didn’t have a little comet in a test tube. Or rather, he did: He had a theoretical model of a comet, and the math to calculate how comets would behave if they were controlled by the sun’s gravity, and that model matched the behavior of real comets. Darwin’s work plus Mendel’s work do the same thing for evolution.

    I notice that you keep using the word “theory” as if you thought it meant the same thing as “cpnjecture”. It doesn’t. All of science consists of theoretical models.

    Herb, Crick only suggested panspermia back in the 1966 because he thought that there wasn’t enough time for the cell to have evolved, given what was then known about genetic biology. He (and a couple of other scientists) speculated the following year that RNA could act as a catalyst, which would shorten the time needed for cell evolution. Catalytic RNA was later found in actual lab experiments.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Avram-Come on– there is a difference between a science “theory” that can be proven in a lab experiment right before your naked eye and a scientific theory that is merely conjecture which cannot be proven in a similar manner. Religious people consider certain piled up facts as proving the existence of God just as evolutionary theory dogmatists consider certain piled up facts as proving Darwin’s theories.
    Granted all science is based on “theoretical models” but some can be proven in a lab “experiment” and others can’t–thus they should not be lumped together as “pure science.”
    The Master Race theory–at one time accepted by a huge percentage of scientists in biological and related fields-even in the U.S.–especially among devotees of Planned Parenthood–proves that a scientific theory -not subject to laboratory “experiments”– can be grossly wrong. Or do you believe in the Master Race Theory?.

  • Avram

    John, I’ve heard of the idea of a “master race”, but never heard it described as any sort of formal “Master Race Theory”. Could you tell me what the theory said, who formalized it, and who some of it’s major proponents were?

    Technically, no scientific theory is ever proven true. There’s always a chance that some new evidence will come along and displace even a well-supported theory. In practice, many theories have so much evidence in their favor that we act is if they’d been proven true. So no, it’s not true that a theory can be “proven in a lab ‘experiment’”. A theory can be proven false, but not true.

    As far as there not being lab evidence for evolution, have you ever bothered to look? Would you even recognize it if you rsaw it, or are you insisting on some magical “fish turning into a dog in front of my eyes” standard?

  • John

    I am neither a Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christian, but a Catholic. I subscribe to the theory of evolution as the single model which best explains the data available. I believe that God’s providential hand invisibly drives the “random” mutations which propel natural selection.

    Having said that: it really irritates me how rationalists (or secularists, or whatever you may call them) use evolution as a tool to assert their supposed mental superiority over “Fundies” and “Born-agains”. The sheer condescension and smugness of the rationalist attitude causes me to sincerely wish for some hard evidence to conclusively disprove Darwin’s theory, if only to cause the smart-set to cease raising their eyebrows in so arch a fashion.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Avram–Rodney Stark is one of America’s leading historians. His latest book is “The Victory of Reason.” Just this a.m. I read an excerpt in which he wrote that “REAL Science” can be tested to be proven true or false::”You say, ‘Whoops, they’re wrong.’ Aristotle said a big rock fell faster than a small rock. Well, it doesn’t, and all he had to do was go to a cliff and drop a couple.” Ergo, by the HISTORIC definition of Real Science these “Theories” which are unproveable in the real world are not REAL Science. So why not have two courses: one covering REAL Science(proveable axioms) and one examining theories unproveable in the laboratory.
    One is far more related to technology in the real world and one to the world of conjecture-no matter how seemingly conclusive the answer to the theories are.
    Unfortunately it has been many years since I studied up on science, medicine, and biology in Nazi and pre-Nazi Germany in my graduate studies in history (I just retired after teaching history for 40 years). One book I remember was by a Lifton titled “The Nazi Doctors,” I also saw the recent exhibit on Nazi medicine at the Holocaust Museum which covered some of this topic. I think part of my skeptcism on Darwin, evolution, and scientists is because of my studies in this area. What is most shocking is to find how many American science intelligentsia bought into master race theories-especially ideologues for Planned Parenthood (which we now finance copiously). I was always struck by how absolutely certain these scientists were of their theories (enough to be willing to exterminate whole peoples)–in fact as dogmatic about their theories as Darwinists and evolutionists. I remember in science classes we were always doing experiments that ALWAYS proved out in the end (heat or fire resulting, etc.) What “proof” is there for the theory of evolution except conjecture based on looking at dead specimens??(We now even have evolutionists backing off into “punctuated” or “episodic” evolution–or whatever the latest name is for this “adjustment” widely written about (Some say it is the ID theorists-along with more careful look at the fossil record– who pushed the evolutionists into this adjustment.

  • Bartholomew

    “I read some book by an evangelical historian…I remember some people used to be racists [OK, many racists were also Christian fundamentalists, but we'll skip over that one]…I wasn’t impressed by evolutionary theory back at high school.”

    Is there any other area of human knowledge where people feel so entitled to sound off without even a basic understanding of what they’re talking about?

  • Herb

    The issues are so complex that it is very difficult to even define what “knowing what they are talking about” really entails. But it seems to me that there are three basic cords to the whole rope:

    1) microevolution, which no one needs to contest. But it does amaze me how this gets confused with no. 2, or is used as an evidence of 2.
    2) macroevolution, which I as a Christian can live with, though I remain unconvinced. I have read some stuff, but not nearly as much as some of you. Still, please understand that, when 65% of Americans remain unconvinced of evolution, we are not necessarily just being stupid. Gould can rant and rave about it if he wants to (I guess he can’t anymore, since he died), but species do, to all appearances, seem to stay within their limits. Still, no Christian really knows how God did it.
    3) the origin of life. Despite the limitations of science, too often they insist on giving naturalistic explanations to this, and here it crosses a boundary. And Avram, Crick may have made his suggestion in 1966, but there are more than a few who still consider panspermia to be an option. Which is faith, not science. Personally, I prefer faith in Elohim, and not in Martians.

    Actually, I think that our attempt to keep religion and science totally separate will break down in the coming decades. It is, to some extent, the product of a totally materialistic world view. It will not work in a spiritist world view, with the world of spirits, demons, and jinn a reality. There are materialistic explanations to some “abnormalities”, but by no means to all. As the Germans say, “Glaube, dem die Tuer versagt, kommt als Aberglaub’ durchs Fenster” — If the door is shut to faith, then superstition will come through the window. You cannot shut out man’s religious nature — maybe because he was intelligently designed with it? And maybe because the immaterial world is a reality, even when we pretend it is not there?

    “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. C. S. Lewis

  • Bartholomew

    The issues are so complex that it is very difficult to even define what “knowing what they are talking about” really entails.

    So of course we therefore don’t even have to try. And we can dismiss the work of Stephen Jay Gould as “ranting and raving”. One of these days I’d like to go to some big international science conference, and witness dozens of scientists taking it in turns to rant from the podium. I also remember the science section of the library when I was an undergrad – dozens of journals, all filled with rantings, peer-reviewed by ravers.

    when 65% of Americans remain unconvinced of evolution, we are not necessarily just being stupid.

    I can think of some other possible adjectives too, although none of them are flattering. Science is difficult – I’m a non-scientist, and I don’t pretend to be able to follow all the arguments and methods that scientists employ. But I’m not so arrogant as to turn that deficency on my part into claim to superior knowledge.

  • Herb

    Pardon, my choice of “ranting and raving” was not a good one. Though the arrogance of Gould and others seems to be constantly below the surface in their response to ID.

    Your own “arrogance” shows when you continue to use the word “stupid”, and “other possible adjectives” about the 65% of us. A lot of us don’t even have a great problem with macroevolution, but we do have a great problem with the philosophical conclusions that are drawn from it, as evidenced in Gould’s famous statement (forgive me if I am re-stating the obvious, but, as I said, I am new to this blog):

    “Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us. . . . No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature (though Newton’s clock-winding god might have set up the machinery at the beginning of time and then let it run). No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature.” (Gould in his essay in “So Cleverly Kind an Animal” in Ever Since Darwin).

    This is religion, not science. Forgive me, but I belong to those who take the New Testament seriously, including passages like:;&version=31;

    And in his review of Johnson’s Darwin on Trial: “Science treats factual reality, while religion struggles with human morality.” On which P. Johnson wryly observes that Gould most certainly would not let religion say much about morality, either, at least as far as it touches moral questions in the science world.

    The “ranting and raving” of Gould I referred to is more like “disdain” — in other words, arrogance and prejudice against any viewpoint that dares to call the philosophical system into question.

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    For those on either side of the ID issue there is a great article on the “First Things” magazine website. It is from the Jan. 2006 issue, titled “The Designs of Science” and is by Cardinal Christopher Schonborn, the main author of the latest official Catholic Catechism.