As Wesley and I work on our book on the history of the Dover trial, one of the things we will have to incorporate and comment on is the absolutely frantic attempts by the DI to rewrite that history after the ruling came down. Watching their reaction evolve has been a source of great amusement to me. They were all for the school passing a pro-ID policy, sending lots of material to school board members to encourage them further. Once they realized that the board members had been so brazen about calling ID creationism and deliberating the issue in starkly religious terms (like Buckingham’s statement that it was time to “stand up” for someone who “died on a cross 2000 years ago”), they backed away and urged the board not to pursue it.
What most of the public doesn’t realize, but those of us who are active behind the scenes of this issue do, is that both sides had been actively looking for a test case on whether ID could be taught in public schools. The ID movement had launched in the aftermath of the 1987 Edwards ruling with a new legal strategy of removing all of the overtly religious elements of creationism to sneak the core unifying ideas of creationism passed the courts. That strategy had not yet been directly tested in court, but both sides were actively on the lookout for possible test cases. In so doing, obviously, we wanted one where the facts of the case were more friendly to the case we had to make in court. Dover fit the bill for our side but, clearly, not for the ID side; but since our side was acting as plaintiff, we got to choose.
It was pretty clear from the start that the bigwigs in the DI were not at all happy with this. They clearly understood that they might only get one shot at the courts, that a major loss in the first ID test case might spell the end of their entire strategy. And they knew, as we did, that the facts of the Dover case were strongly against them. That’s why they tried to talk the school board out of passing the policy, and it’s why they urged the Thomas More Law Center not to take the case.
But even after the suit was filed in Dover, there was still much bravado from some corners of the ID camp, particularly from the Dembski blog. In the midst of discovery and depositions in the trial, Dembski himself openly fantasized about finally having his day in court to get those evil Darwinists under oath and squeeze the truth out of them. He outlined it in a post where he rolled out his Vise Strategy. In it, he declared that he could hardly wait for “the day when the hearings are not voluntary but involve subpoenas that compel evolutionists to be deposed and interrogated at length on their views.”
And then there’s DaveScot’s attempt at prophecy, as he gleefully noted that the case has been given to a conservative Christian judge with close ties to prominent ID advocates:
Judge John E. Jones on the other hand is a good old boy brought up through the conservative ranks. He was state attorney for D.A.R.E, an Assistant Scout Master with extensively involved with local and national Boy Scouts of America, political buddy of Governor Tom Ridge (who in turn is deep in George W. Bush’s circle of power), and finally was appointed by GW hisself. Senator Rick Santorum is a Pennsylvanian in the same circles (author of the “Santorum Language” that encourages schools to teach the controversy) and last but far from least, George W. Bush hisself drove a stake in the ground saying teach the controversy. Unless Judge Jones wants to cut his career off at the knees he isn’t going to rule against the wishes of his political allies. Of course the ACLU will appeal. This won’t be over until it gets to the Supreme Court. But now we own that too.
That bravado was shared by the folks from the Thomas More Law Center, but I frankly think that was just a ruse. They are good enough attorneys to know that the facts were strongly against them. They were also good enough, at least, to know that they were seriously overmatched by the legal team the plaintiffs had put together for the trial; if not, they quickly found out once the trial began. Only the DI, however, really knew how badly the case was going to go for them and once the case was filed they put most of their energy into minimizing the scope of the loss.
That we would win was a safe bet, but we could win big or win little. Winning little would have meant a narrow ruling based solely on the purpose prong of the Lemon test, without any legal analysis of the nature of ID as unscientific. Winning big would be a comprehensive ruling on the effect prong of the Lemon test with direct reference to the unscientific and religious nature of ID itself. From the start, the DI seemed to focus on minimizing the scope of the win, on prevailing on the judge to issue only the narrowest possible ruling in the case.
DI fellow David DeWolf filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of pro-ID scientists urging the judge not to rule on the scientific validity of ID or on whether it was essentially religious, arguing that “intelligent design should not be stigmatized by the courts as less scientific than competing theories.” DeWolf also authored a brief on behalf of the DI itself that argued that if the judge did rule on that question, he should rule that ID is scientific and not religious. Clearly this was the key to the DI’s trial strategy.
When the ruling came down, it turned out that we didn’t win little or big, we won huge. Despite the judge’s political alliances with ID proponents, we prevailed on every single argument we made in the case. It was a thorough rejection of the ID legal strategy. But of course, they couldn’t admit that publicly. Instead, they would try and downplay the signficance of the ruling. Indeed, some of them had begun to lay the groundwork for that claim a couple months earlier.
In a September 30th post on his blog, Dembski was in the mood to make predictions. He offered three possibilities: 1) ID wins; 2) the other side wins little; 3) the other side wins big. He put the odds at 20%, 70% and 10% respectively (one would think the Isaac Newton of Information Theory could do a bit better than that; let’s just say I’m not counting on Dembski to tell me whether Baylor is gonna cover the spread this weekend). But, he noted optimistically, even if the 3rd outcome was to happen, life would go on. After all, God himself was in charge:
Thus, unlike outcome 1., which would be a Waterloo for the other side, I don’t see outcome 3. as anything like a Waterloo for our side. It would make life in the short-term more difficult, and it certainly would not be pleasant to have to endure the gloating by the other side, but the work of ID would continue. In fact, it might continue more effectively than under outcome 1., which might convince people that ID has already won the day when in fact ID still has a long way to go in developing its scientific and intellectual program.
To sum up, we might say that outcome 1. would be a recipe for complacency, outcome 2. would encourage us to take greater care and try again, and option 3. would inspire us to work that much harder for ID’s ultimate success. I trust that Providence will bring about the outcome that will best foster ID’s ultimate success.
This is a standard PR trick of reducing expectations to help one control the spin, and the spin came fast and furious the day the ruling came down. On that day, the DI released a statement that tried in several ways to minimize the importance of the ruling. But the primary line they were peddling that day was that, despite the huge loss they had taken in court, ID would still prevail in the end. After declaring the judge whose appointment to the case they had greeted with such hope an “activist judge with delusions of grandeur” – gee, that was a shock – they said:
“Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world,” continued West. “Americans don’t like to be told there is some idea that they aren’t permitted to learn about.. It used to be said that banning a book in Boston guaranteed it would be a bestseller. Banning intelligent design in Dover will likely only fan interest in the theory.”
“In the larger debate over intelligent design, this decision will be of minor significance,” added Discovery Institute attorney Casey Luskin. “As we’ve repeatedly stressed, the ultimate validity of intelligent design will be determined not by the courts but by the scientific evidence pointing to design.”
It was a brave face to present to the public, but that’s all it was. There is no doubt that they understood just how devestating this loss was to their movement and to the legal strategy they had poured such resources into. The fact that they recognized just how bad it was is supported by their subsequent behavior. They’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Judge Jones’ ruling, keeping up a steady stream of criticism going for nearly 9 months now, including an entire book. In the process they have engaged in a great deal of revisionism. The latest example is this post by Logan Gage on the DI blog concerning the Behe cross examination.He begins by saying that “every American” should be “troubled” by the following quote from Judge Jones in an interview:
I think that some of the cross-examination was absolutely fabulous,” said Jones. “It will endure, and I think it will be excerpted for advocacy classes. … I would say, in particular, Eric Rothschild’s cross-examination of Professor [Michael] Behe — the intelligent design proponent — that might be as good a cross-examination of an expert witness as I have ever seen. It was textbook.
And he uses this as a jumping off point to, once again, beat the dead horse with more complaints about the fact that Rothschild had presented some 50 books and articles on the evolution of the immune system to Behe on the stand:
I was there. The cross examination was pure sophistry. Rothschild did nothing more than twist Behe’s words. He then proceeded to do a theatrical literature dump on Behe–piling up the papers and books before the professor–and act as though because many scientific papers had the words “evolution” and “immune system” in the title then evolution by natural selection must have built the immune system. This was not an argument refuting Behe’s work. This was a stunt.
Bear in mind, folks, that the cross examination of Behe began early afternoon on October 18th and ended early afternoon on October 19th. An entire day was spent just on the cross examination of Behe, all of which Gage ignores except for one tiny portion of the questioning that took maybe 15 minutes. And his complaints about that portion of the question prove, under examination, to be hollow.
Every discerning person in attendance that day was surely asking himself, “If one of these papers or books has a piece of overwhelming evidence that the immune system was built by random mutation and natural selection, then why doesn’t Rothschild just open one of them and point to such a passage?”
Only a person wholly unfamiliar with how such research is done would think that. A truly discerning person would understand that the evolution of the immune system is a massive subject that has spawned, and continues to spawn, an enormous amount of research to work out the details. Only an ignoramus would expect or demand that there would be one “piece of overwhelming evidence” that would settle the issue once and for all. It simply doesn’t work that way. There is no single “crucial test” that proves such a theory, there is only the slow accretion of more and more detailed explanations, more and more experimentation to confirm discrete aspects of how the system might have developed. As usual, the IDers demand a ridiculous level of proof, one that they know cannot be met, and they demand that it be encapsulated in a single, easy proof, like a math problem. Science simply does not work that way.
What mainstream science has over ID, particularly in this area, is that those who study of the development of the immune system can actually do science. They can propose hypotheses for how a particular aspect of the immune system evolved, derive predictions from those hypotheses and test those predictions. And they do so, every day, in labs all over the world. Can you even imagine hypothetically how a scientist guided by ID would try and confirm the “god poofed it into existence” theory? It’s not even hypothetically possible.
For a good description of current research on the development of the immune system, look at this post at the Panda’s Thumb by Nick Matzke, or at this article in Nature Immunology by Matzke, Andrea Bottaro and Matt Inlay. Both articles trace the development of the transposon hypothesis and how it is being confirmed by ongoing research in comparative immunology. Is it slam dunk proof, wrapped up in a neat little package the way Behe demands? Of course not. But it’s the kind of research that can only be done within an evolutionary paradigm; ID offers no hope of ever confirming an explanation for its development. And the results of dozens and dozens of studies have continued to give weight to the evolutionary explanation, and all of the evidence found so far is consistent with it. That’s how science of this sort is done, not by a single geometric proof but by the slow accumulation of evidence and the step by step confirmation of a compelling explanation for that evidence.
Gage takes Judge Jones to task for praising this cross examination because of his misrepresentation of one tiny portion of it, but he ignores a great deal of brilliant work by Rothschild. There is a reason why observers of the trial, including myself, pointed to the cross examination of Behe as a key moment in the trial. Rothschild had Behe on the run from the start and extracted one crucial admission after another out of him. Here’s a short list of those admissions:
1. That there are many complex biochemical systems that he accepts as having evolved without any intelligent intervention, including systems that require multiple interacting parts in order to function (like hemoglobin or the antifreeze protein system in Arctic fish).
2. Admitting that when he used the phrase “purposeful arrangement of parts”, “purposeful” really only means “functional”. As I wrote at the time, using quotes from his cross examination:
So according to Behe, we know that a system was designed if it has a “purposeful arrangement of parts”, and we know that an arrangement is “purposeful” if the parts are “ordered to perform some function.” But wait a minute…when it comes to the antifreeze protein, a system that is obviously ordered (the development of the system involves a gene for a related protein, trypsinogen, being expanded, then duplicated, to produce a sequence of 41 tandem repeat segments) to perform some function (keeping the fish’s blood from freezing at low temperatures), Behe does not infer design. In fact, we have multiple examples of antifreeze proteins in different species of fish, all derived independently of one another through different pathways, controlled by different genes and resulting in different sets of proteins, all of which Behe apparently accepts as being well explained by evolution without the need for the intervention of a designer. Yet these systems show the same trait – multiple parts ordered to perform a function – that he claims is a positive test for design.
3. Getting Behe to claim that his book, Darwin’s Black Box, had undergone even more rigorous peer review than a journal article because it was a “controversial topic” and getting him to name one of the reviewers as Dr. Michael Atchison. They then pointed out that Atchison had in fact written that he had never even seen the book and that the full extent of his “peer review” was a 10 minute phone conversation with the editor, wherein the editor described the book and asked him if he thought the book was “a good risk for publication.” Furthermore, the other two reviewers were Robert Shepiro and K. Scott Morrow, both of whom have publicly said that they panned the book in their reviews. So much for that more rigorous peer review.
4. Getting Behe to admit that the computer simulation he published with David Snoke showed that an irreducibly complex protein binding site could evolve in less than 20,000 years even though they rigged the experiment to make it as unlikely as possible. I went into great detail on that particularly brilliant portion of the cross examination in a blog post the day after the cross examination.
And those are just a few examples. Judge Jones was absolutely right to call Eric Rothschild’s cross examination of Behe a textbook example of effective cross examination. It was all of that and more, and it was an extremely important reason why the judge ruled the way he did. Remember, Behe was one of only two scientific witnesses the defense had in the case. The fact that he was shredded on the stand was a huge blow to their cause, and all the after-the-fact revisionism they’ve done in the last year doesn’t change that a bit.