Dispatches from the Creation Wars

You may have noticed that the Montana Law Review let the DI folks have the last word in their symposium on the Dover trial; I’m going to fix that. Pete Irons has graciously sent me his full reply to the “rebuttal” written by Luskin, West and DeWolf and given me permission to post it here. The first article can be found here. Irons’ first reply is found here. The DI’s response is found here. And everything below the fold is Prof. Irons’ final reply to their attempt to rebut him.


Reply to Rebuttal
By Peter Irons

The pages of a respected law review are rarely filled with such pejorative terms as “smear and innuendo,” “poisoning the well,” and “personal attacks.” These are charges the DI authors have leveled at me in their Rebuttal to my article, in which I documented their ad hominem attacks on Judge Jones for his allegedly “sloppy” and “biased” Kitzmiller opinion. Although this reply to the Rebuttal is not part of the exchange in the Montana Law Review, it seems fair that readers of those articles might benefit from a brief rejoinder to the Rebuttal, which I will not burden with footnotes. I have numbered the points below simply for convenience.

1. The DI authors fault me for not “engaging th[e] scholarship” they cite as providing “empirical evidence supporting [intelligent] design.” My article was not directed at a detailed critique of this alleged scholarship, which lies outside both my fields of expertise and those of the DI authors. I did, however, note in my article the concession of Michael Behe at the Kitzmiller trial that he could not cite any “pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” I thus had no ID scholarship to engage.

2. The DI authors next fault me for quoting from “a few blog posts” in my effort to explore the background of the Discovery Institute’s campaign to discredit Judge Jones. The lengthy blog posts on the DI’s Web site, written by John West, in fact formed the basis for the DI authors’ Traipsing Into Evolution book, both of which reveal the depth of the DI’s animus toward Judge Jones for his ruling. Hardly a “smear” to quote their own words, I submit.

3. The DI authors dismiss as an “old fundraising proposal” the document from which I quoted to show the explicitly religious genesis of the DI and its “intelligent design” campaign. Better known as the “Wedge Strategy,” and stamped “TOP SECRET” when it was inadvertently leaked to the press, this document was in fact the DI’s long-range “Strategic Plan” for promoting intelligent design. Its professed goal of replacing “the materialist worldview” with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions” properly led Judge Jones to conclude that the DI had launched “a program of Christian apologetics to promote ID.” Again, hardly a “smear” to quote the DI’s own words on its religious motives.

4. The DI authors deny making any ad hominem attacks on Judge Jones. My article cited several examples of such attacks, to which readers may refer. I will note here only one, John West’s charge that Judge Jones suffered from “delusions of grandeur.” This term, in fact, is not part of the legal lexicon, but refers to a psychiatric disorder. Whether used carelessly or intentionally, this characterization of Judge Jones certainly meets the ad hominem criterion, in my opinion. Again, hardly a “smear” to cite their own words on this issue.

5. The DI authors accuse me of engaging in “guilt-by-association” in noting that Howard Ahmanson, Jr., the DI’s primary funder and current board member, was also a long-time funder and board member of the Chalcedon Institute, a Christian Reconstructionist group that advocates an American theocracy. In noting this connection, I did not claim, as the DI authors allege, that the DI “supports” either Reconstructionism or theocracy. Which groups Ahmanson supports with his inherited fortune is his choice, but the DI did take his money when it knew of his Chalcedon association; Ahmanson served on the Chalcedon board until 2001 and contributed some $1 million to its Reconstructionist program. Readers of these exchanges are free, of course, to draw their own conclusions about the significance of these connections.

6. The DI authors charge me with “caricaturing the backgrounds, beliefs, and political affiliations of ID proponents, rather obviously trying to present ID as part of a nefarious conspiracy of the ‘Religious Right.’” Let me simply note here that every quotation in my article from the statements of ID proponents was cited to the public record of what they said and wrote. Readers of this exchange may consult that record and decide for themselves whether I have fairly reported or have caricatured those statements.

7. Moving to the legal issues in the Kitzmiller opinion, which the DI authors accuse me of slighting in my article, let me comment on their claim that both Judge Jones and I have “misapplie[d] the Lemon test.” First, they concede that the “proffered secular purpose” of the Dover school board’s ID policy was a “sham” and that Judge Jones properly held it unconstitutional as an endorsement of religion. Second, they argue that this finding “negat[ed] any need to address whether ID is science.” On this point, the DI authors note that “even anti-ID legal scholar Jay Wexler [a professor at Boston University Law School] agrees Judge Jones was mistaken to rule on ID’s scientific status,” citing Wexler’s recent article in the First Amendment Law Review (Vol. 5, 2006). Without rehashing the discussion of this issue in my article, let me simply note that Professor Wexler and I disagree. Readers of this exchange are encouraged to consult the lengthy, and–in my view–persuasive reply to Wexler by Richard Katskee in that same issue of the First Amendment Law Review.

8. In claiming that ID is based on legitimate scientific evidence, the DI authors traipse into paleontology in disputing my assertion that not one of the DI’s forty-some Fellows has any expertise in this field, which Judge Jones noted in his opinion and which is indisputably true. The DI authors respond that I have “ignor[ed] the various ID proponents–including one present co-author [of their article] who have studied (or published) in mainstream paleontology circles, including on hominid evolution.” They cite in their Rebuttal two articles, one by Sigrid Hartwig-Scherer of the University of Munich, the other by Casey Luskin, a co-author of the DI’s article. Let me simply note here that Hartwig-Scherer is a professed “six-day” creationist who attributes the entire fossil record of hominid evolution to the “flood” of the Genesis account of creation, a position that no reputable paleontologist finds credible. The article the DI authors cite was published in 1991 and does not reflect more recent findings in this field. Luskin’s article, posted on an ID Web site that is not peer-reviewed, argues that the human species has no connection in the fossil record with any earlier hominid species, again disputing the findings of reputable paleontologists. This may strike some readers as a minor quibble, but I think it reveals the grasping at straws of the DI authors in their effort to evade the overwhelming evidence of the “common descent” of humans from earlier hominid species, evidence that undermines their belief in the “special creation” by God of humankind.

9. One final comment on this exchange: In their initial responses to the Kitzmiller ruling, the DI authors dismissed Judge Jones’s opinion as of “minor significance,” predicting that it “will recede as an interesting footnote to the history of the scientific and cultural debate” over evolution and intelligent design. Why, then, have they devoted dozens of blog posts, a book, and a law review article to denigrating that opinion and its author? In my view, they recognize that the Dover “disaster” has effectively derailed the DI’s long-range plan to persuade gullible school boards to include ID as a legitimate “alternative” to evolution in biology classes. That defeat has clearly provoked the DI authors to their rhetorical excesses. Once again, I urge readers of this exchange to read the Kitzmiller opinion and decide for themselves which side has the more persuasive argument.

Comments

  1. #1 J-Dog
    June 7, 2007

    Excellent. Point, Set, Match. Thanks for the post.

  2. #2 llDayo
    June 7, 2007

    This is a terrific rebutal by Irons! He shows exactly why the DI shouldn’t be taken seriously. They will go to whatever lengths to try to dismantle an argument and nitpick at things that are either totally unrelated to the issue or of minor importance. Maybe they should focus their on producing evidence of ID if they ever want the chance to be taken seriously.

    Ed – You might want to link to the original article in the Law Review for this post, just for historical and searching purposes on your blog. If someone new comes here and finds this posting they may not understand what’s going on without reading the original arguments first.

  3. #3 Dave S.
    June 7, 2007

    Whu? Using their own words as can be found in the public record against them? That’s not fair at all!

    I love the line about ID not having any scholarship to engage.

    I can see why they’re abandoning ID for “evolution”. There is a saying that the most dangerous lie is the one that’s closest to the truth.

  4. #4 Dan
    June 7, 2007

    Concise, coherent, and completely effective — exactly what I’ve always seen in Prof. Irons’s scholarship. And also why DeWolf, et.al. don’t really even try to meet him on the merits — they simply cannot. They’re smart enough to know it, of course, but they cannot admit it.

  5. #5 Michael Heath
    June 7, 2007

    Excellent argument though I do have one minor quibble. Mr. Iron’s final comment recommends we read the opinion in order to decide for ourselves whether Judge Jones ruled correctly. I would instead recommend reading the trial transcripts to make that determination, the term blowout comes to mind. . .

    My point is not meant to disparage Judge Jone’s conclusions in his opinion, only to point out that the transcripts provide overwhelming evidence on how well the Judge adminstrated this case and how weak the ID case and cross examinations were, not to mention the excellent job the plantiff’s attorneys did in presenting their case.

  6. #6 John Pieret
    June 7, 2007

    Let’s not forget either that the Discovery Institute itself submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to Judge Jones that included the following:

    Secular purposes for teaching about the theory of intelligent design include
    informing students about competing scientific theories of biological origins
    . . .

    As to the second prong of the Lemon test, plaintiffs falsely assert that the
    theory of intelligent design necessarily has the primary effect of advancing
    religion. Instead, there is every good reason to regard the theory of
    intelligent design as a scientific theory, and thus, the primary effect of
    informing students about it is to improve science education and thus, the
    primary effect of informing students about it is to improve science education;
    further, the inclusion of such “alternative scientific theories” was clearly
    authorized by Edwards v. Aguillard. (Emphasis added) (pp. 6-7)

    Judge Jones would have been remiss if the case had gone up on appeal and the higher court ruled either that the the proffered secular purpose of the Dover school board’s ID policy was not a “sham” or that it didn’t matter (or whatever) and the case had to be remanded for a further trial on the other issues. The defendants and the DI put the issue of whether ID is science in play and the judge was right to rule on it.

    Not to mention that he ruled correctly to boot!

  7. #7 Wes
    June 7, 2007

    The DI authors deny making any ad hominem attacks on Judge Jones.

    So putting his face in a flash animation with fart noises and a puppet string coming out of his back isn’t ad hominem?

  8. #8 Coin
    June 7, 2007

    So putting his face in a flash animation with fart noises and a puppet string coming out of his back isn’t ad hominem?

    It is hardly “ad hominem” to quote Judge Jone’s own words and overlay fart noises, I submit.

    ….wait, that wasn’t as convincing as I’d hoped somehow. How’d Irons do that trick again?

  9. #9 Troublesome Frog
    June 7, 2007

    My article was not directed at a detailed critique of this alleged scholarship, which lies outside both my fields of expertise and those of the DI authors.

    Zing!

  10. #10 Dave Carlson
    June 7, 2007

    Luskin’s article, posted on an ID Web site that is not peer-reviewed, argues that the human species has no connection in the fossil record with any earlier hominid species, again disputing the findings of reputable paleontologists.

    Oh my. .. he didn’t, did he? I must read that!

  11. #11 raj
    June 8, 2007

    I suspect that I should be appalled that the LMU (Ludwig-Maximilians Universitaet–the “University of Munich”) would employ a creationist, but I’m not. Bavaria is relatively conservative, religion-wise. But Hartwig-Scherer’s religion does not appear to stem from the relatively conservative Catholic tradition, but instead from the not particularly conservative Lutheran tradition.

  12. #12 Paul Burnett
    June 10, 2007

    Thank you, Ed, for putting Peter’s reply on the record. I’m glad he reiterated the point about the connection between ID and the religious fanatics who want to replace the Bill of Rights with their version of Sharia law: they want to enforce all the laws of the Old Testament instead of the current legal system. (Look up “Christian Reconstuctionism” and “Dominionism” in Wikipedia.) Or read Barbara Forrests’ just-released “Understanding the intelligent design creationist movement: Its true nature and goals,” available at http://www.centerforinquiry.net/uploads/attachments/Forrest_Paper.pdf. Scary stuff.

  13. #13 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 11, 2007

    I suspect that I should be appalled that the LMU (Ludwig-Maximilians Universitaet–the “University of Munich”) would employ a creationist, but I’m not.

    They may employ two, since her husband Siegfried Scherer is reportedly a microbiologist and seems to be a creationist as well ( http://www.skepticfiles.org/new/credcre.htm ).

  14. #14 secondclass
    June 11, 2007

    the DI authors dismissed Judge Jones’s opinion as of “minor significance,”

    Right.

    One point of significance that bears repeating is the fact that no law firm will ever defend ID again. Thomas More got twice-burned — they wasted a wad of money and hours on a futile case, and then, adding insult to injury, the ID community turned and scapegoated them. Not to mention Dembski’s threat to sue them.

  15. #15 Ed Brayton
    June 11, 2007

    secondclass wrote:

    One point of significance that bears repeating is the fact that no law firm will ever defend ID again. Thomas More got twice-burned — they wasted a wad of money and hours on a futile case, and then, adding insult to injury, the ID community turned and scapegoated them.

    I don’t think this is true. The TMLC had their own reasons for taking the case and they had little to do with ID. They were looking for a big jump in name recognition and public visibility; they got it. And they’ll do it again if they get the chance.

  16. #16 secondclass
    June 11, 2007

    I don’t think this is true. The TMLC had their own reasons for taking the case and they had little to do with ID.

    You’re right. I had forgotten that the TMLC instigated the whole mess. Still, their crushing defeat will certainly give pause to other law firms.

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