Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Montana Law Review on Dover Trial

A long-awaited issue of the Montana Law Review with several articles about the Dover trial is finally available to the public. There are three articles in it, two of them pro-ID. The pro-ID article is called Intelligent Design Will Survive and is written by David DeWolf, Casey Luskin and John West. The response, called Disaster in Dover, is written by Peter Irons. Then there is a response to Irons’ article by the three DI guys. I love the title of the first section of Irons’ article: THE DISCOVERY INSTITUTE’S EFFORTS TO “SWIFT-BOAT” JUDGE JONES. This is a very important bit of work because he documents, as I and others have done, the DI’s campaign to smear Judge Jones in order to sow doubt about his ruling.

This really demonstrates, as much as anything, the purely political nature of the ID movement. In response to the ruling, the Discovery Institute behaved exactly like partisan political groups behave: truth be damned, undermine your opponent with distortions, half-truths and ad hominem attacks designed to damage their standing in the eyes of their followers. Irons gives lots of examples:

Judge Jones issued his Kitzmiller opinion on December 20, 2005.8 The ink was hardly dry before one of the DI authors, John West, responded on the Institute’s Web site under the heading “Dover in Review.” West fired a barrage of ad hominem volleys at Judge Jones, accusing him of having “delusions of grandeur” and of being “an incredibly sloppy judge who selects the facts to fit the result he wants.” Judge Jones viewed the Kitzmiller case, West alleged, as “his chance to play philosopher king” and to secure “his place in judicial history.” West disputed the media’s portrayal of the judge, who was named to the federal bench in 2002 by President George W. Bush, and who attended Lutheran services, “as a conservative Republican who is devoutly religious.” Noting that Jones’s “political mentor” was Tom Ridge, a former Pennsylvania governor, West disparaged Ridge as “a fairly liberal ‘pro-choice’ Republican,” insinuating that Ridge’s support for abortion rights somehow tainted Judge Jones’s Kitzmiller opinion.

Moving to another red-meat issue of dubious relevance to the Kitzmiller case, West wrote that Jones “does not seem in sync with most conservatives’ attitudes toward crime and punishment.” Before Jones had become a judge, he served by appointment as a part-time county public defender in criminal cases. Referring to Jones’s Senate confirmation hearings, West stated that Jones “spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old
boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty,” insinuating that Jones was soft on crime. Jones, in fact, had told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.” As West should have known, Jones was acting in this case as every attorney is required to do in defending his or her client, regardless of the public outcry.

One might fairly ask what possible relevance to the Kitzmiller case West discerned in Governor Ridge’s views on abortion rights, or Judge Jones’s church membership (or non-membership), or his efforts to spare a convicted murderer from the death penalty. The answer, in my view, stems from the fact (discussed at greater length below) that the constituency from which the DI draws a major part of its funding, and to which it pitches its propaganda,
consists largely of conservative, evangelical Christians for whom abortion, capital punishment, and evolution are linked in the “cultural war” against the “secular humanists” they see as enemies of Christian orthodoxy. From this perspective, West’s attacks on Judge Jones reflect more than the pique of a sore loser; they also employ code words in the political lexicon of the Religious Right.

Precisely right. When faced with a comprehensive and immensely damaging court ruling, the DI’s immediate response was to spew ad hominems at the man who wrote it. This is standard behavior in partisan political circles. Forget about the substantive issues addressed in the ruling, go straight for the red meat to throw the base – “he’s a liberal, and he’s probably pro-abortion too – and oh yeah, he likes freeing murderers of 12 year old kids.” That’ll do the trick. It’s extraordinarily dishonest, of course, in addition to being logically incoherent and utterly irrelevant to the validity of the ruling. But it’s standard operating procedure for the DI. Indeed, it can be seen in the pathetic attempt to respond on this very issue in their reply to Irons. This is the sum total of their response to that section of his article:

Given his article, it is surprising that Irons accuses us of making ad hominem attacks against Judge Jones. Ad hominem arguments attack a person rather than that person’s position. Our article assesses Judge Jones’s analysis in light of his judicial responsibilities, but Irons’s rebuttal starts with the alleged motives and personal failings of the authors. Irons’s claim that we resort to ad hominem attacks is the height of irony.

No, the height of irony is this highly dishonest response to the accusation. Notice their attempt to change the subject, to claim that since they did not use the ad hominems listed above in the Montana Law Review article, therefore his accusation is wrong. But he was not referring to their MLR article when he quoted the ad hominems, he was referring to their various public statements immediately after the ruling came down.

Of course they’re not going to use such arguments in a law review article, where they know it will only make them look bad (and may well result in the article being rejected for publication; unlike blog postings, law reviews actually have standards). They make such arguments in press releases and blog postings, which are aimed at a different, less educated audience that is more apt to respond to attempts to smear the judge rather than engage his positions. So not only do they lie and distort in order to smear Judge Jones, they then lie and distort when they’re caught doing so. A bravissimo performance, guys.


  1. #1 J-Dog
    June 6, 2007

    What about a Response to the DI Response? I hate to let the bad guys get in the last word.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    June 6, 2007

    Funny you should mention that. Pete Irons emailed me his response to their reply this morning and I’ll be posting it here tomorrow.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    June 6, 2007

    Ed – I can not reach Panda’s Thumb or Anti-Evolution.org this morning… Is DaveScot or someone of his ilk doing some “Street Theater”?

  4. #4 Raging Bee
    June 6, 2007

    Does anyone try to explain why the IDists who lost in the Dover case didn’t even bother to file an appeal, on any grounds?

  5. #5 Kevin W. Parker
    June 6, 2007

    Does anyone try to explain why the IDists who lost in the Dover case didn’t even bother to file an appeal, on any grounds?

    The only ones who could appeal were the defendant, the Dover Area School Board, and all but one of the members of the Board who supported ID had been voted out in an election the month before the decision. Other than being socked with the costs, the new Board was happy with the decision.

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    June 6, 2007

    Raging Bee wrote:

    Does anyone try to explain why the IDists who lost in the Dover case didn’t even bother to file an appeal, on any grounds?

    Because the only ones who could appeal were the school board and the school board was voted out shortly before the ruling came down. The new board just wanted it over with and had no desire to appeal.

  7. #7 peter irons
    June 6, 2007

    The reason the IDers did not appeal to Dover case is that all but one of the nine school board members who adopted the “intelligent design” policy were voted out of office, just before the decision came down, and their replacements (all of them anti-ID) rescinded the policy and voted not to appeal. So the case effectively died after the school-board election. RIP!

  8. #8 kehrsam
    June 6, 2007

    If Judge Jones had reason to know Tom Ridge’s stance on abortion issues, there is no doubt he should have recused himself from taking a case of this nature. The hypocracy is blinding.

  9. #9 Coin
    June 6, 2007

    Funny you should mention that. Pete Irons emailed me his response to their reply this morning and I’ll be posting it here tomorrow.

    Will his response response be getting air time in the law review journal as well?

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    June 6, 2007

    No, the journal will not be publishing his response.

  11. #11 Scott Beach
    June 6, 2007

    The IDists tell us that ID is the “best” explanation and that living organisms are so complex that they “must have” been consciously designed and created. The IDists frequently give us their opinions about ID but they never present a definition of ID. I decided to fill that definition gap. I defined ID in a way that includes the process of evolution by means of natural selection. See http://intelligent-design-hypothesis.com

  12. #12 Science Avenger
    June 6, 2007

    I’ve read through these and comment in detail on my blog. It is highly entertaining. In particular, note the difference in tone, and the frequency with which each grants a point of the other. It is very revealing. At times it sounds like an adult arguing with a child.

  13. #13 Shrdlu42
    June 24, 2007

    “If Judge Jones had reason to know Tom Ridge’s stance on abortion issues, there is no doubt he should have recused himself from taking a case of this nature. The hypocracy is blinding.
    Posted by: kehrsam | June 6, 2007 12:54 PM”

    By that “reasoning”, Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia should have recused themselves from the recent (so-called) partial-birth abortion ban case. After all, they know the position of the Presidents who appointed them on that issue as well!

    I fail to see any connection with between ID (creationism-in-drag) and abortion – other than the fact that Biblical literalists (who worship the Bible, not G-d), support the one and oppose the other. Sorry, but you don’t get to cherry-pick your judges to guarantee the outcome.

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    June 24, 2007

    I think you’ve missed some sarcasm on the part of kehrsam. He was joking.

  15. #15 Shrdlu42
    June 25, 2007

    In which case, I apologize.

    In order to avoid such confusion, when I engage in sarcatic suggestions I usually refer to them as “a modest proposal”. What can I say: I plagarize from the best!

    By the way, I’ve often wondered why ID’ers insist on ignoring the obvious differences between organic animate matter, and inorganic inanimate matter. What truly tells us whether something has been “designed” (or , to speak more accurately, has been manufactured) is whether the material it is made of is capable of taking that form without the intervention of an outside intelligent force.

    To use the classic example: the reason the existence of a watch implies a watchmaker is because we know that copper, steel, glass (etc.) are incapable of forming a watch on their own. So far, however, all the evidence indicates that organic animate matter is quite capable of forming living beings without any help. Hey, humans do it in nine months or so.

    Oh, well, maybe we should teach the “Stork theory”, the “Cabbage Patch” theory, and the “Under the Rock” theory in biology as well. (That’s just a modest proposal, of course.)

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