Important Points from Forrest's Testimony

In reading Barbara Forrest's testimony, it quickly becomes clear why the defense has objected so vociferously to her being allowed to testify as an expert witness. On the issues that are really at the core of this case, she is the witness who does the most damage to the arguments of the defense. Remember that the Supreme Court has already ruled 7-2 in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creation science (i.e. creationism) in public school science classrooms is a violation of the establishment clause. The single most important issue in the Dover case is whether intelligent design is a genuine scientific theory, as the defense claims, or whether it is simply creation science dressed up with a new name. And on that question, Forrest's testimony was extraordinarily important.

It has already been noted that the book that the Dover school board recommended to students, Of Pandas and People, used the terms "creation" or "creation science" in its early versions, then switched to using "intelligent design", with the same definition for both terms, after the Edwards case ruled creation science out of public school classrooms. But on top of that, the principal author of that book, Dean Kenyon, gave a very damning affidavit in the Edwards case that really hurts the defense's claims for why intelligent design and creation science are different.

The main argument that ID advocates make for why ID and creation science aren't the same is that while creation science makes specific claims that coincide with a particular interpretation of the Bible - like a young earth and a global flood - ID does not take a position on those things. Just last week, John West made this argument for the distinction:

According to West, creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text.

But as Forrest pointed out in her testimony, the proponents of creation science said the exact same thing in the Edwards case. In an affidavit filed by Dean Kenyon in that 1987 case (he was an expert witness in the case), he swore:

Creation science does not include as essential parts the concept of catastrophism, a worlwide flood, a recent inception of the earth or life from nothingness, ex nihilo, the concept of time, or any concepts from Genesis or other sacred texts.

Kenyon also swore in that affidavit that, in his view, there were only two options - biological evolution or biological creation. Anything that was not evolution by natural causes was creationism. So it is clear that, from the standpoint of the very book that the Dover school board is using, there is no distinction between creationism and intelligent design. The terms were used interchangably by the authors, the meaning was identical. And just as advocates of ID today allege that the validity of ID is scientifically credible without reference to the Bible or any other sacred text, the same people said the same thing about creation science when they were using that term (and bear in mind that Kenyon is not the only author of Of Pandas and People, almost all of the leading ID scholars had a hand in writing different parts and versions of it, including Michael Behe, Nancy Pearsey - who used three chapters of the book word for word in a young earth creationist publication that she edited, making no distinction between creationism and intelligent design - and many others).

In addition, there is also the fact that the publishers of this book were quite explicitly aware of the impact of the Edwards decision. In letters that they sent out to textbook companies in 1987 prior to the Edwards decision being handed down, they told those companies that if that decision outlawed creation science from public school science classrooms, there would be a big demand for books that taught the same thing but without the language that triggered that prohibition. Dr. Forrest showed copies of those letters to the judge during her testimony, proving that the Foundation for Thought and Ethics was well aware of of how they would need to word things to get around that decision if it came down. Again, powerful evidence that the use of "intelligent design" was merely a strategic choice to cover up the creationist content.

Reading the transcript, you can almost hear the frustration in the judge's voice as he overrules the same objection from the defense lawyers time and time again. The argument they're making is that since the plaintiffs admit that not everything a scientist says is science (which is obviously true), it's not fair to quote anything from the ID advocates making religious or philosophical statements because those statements are not scientific themselves, just as pro-evolution scientists make non-scientific statements along with their statements about the science of evolution. But that objection only works if the two types of statements address different things. When an ID advocate says "Intelligent design is..." (as in Dembski's statement: "Indeed, intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John's Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory") and then makes a religious statement of the meaning or intent of ID, they are providing a definition of what they claim is a scientific theory; if that definition is itself unscientific, then it shows the concept itself to be unscientific.

Moreover, what we are talking about is a movement, not merely a particular theory (since ID doesn't have an actual theory, it can only be described as a movement). When the leaders of that movement speak of their strategic choice to hide the religious nature of the idea in order to get around prior legal rulings (as in Phillip Johnson's statement: "Our strategy has been to change the subject a bit so that we can get the issue of intelligent design, which really means the reality of God, before the academic world and into the schools"), it clearly impeaches their credibility when they claim that ID is purely scientific and not a religious idea.

Most importantly, their objection cannot possibly apply to testimony comparing the usages of the terms "creationism" and "intelligent design". If you are trying to prove that ID is creationism, the fact that the very textbook they are recommending gives the exact same definition for both terms is powerful evidence that the concepts are synonymous. The TMLC attorneys continually tried to object to all of this evidence as "hearsay" and the judge repeatedly overruled them because, obviously, the documented words of ID advocates - not quotes from articles about them, but their own words in documents they admit to having written - clearly can't be hearsay.

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Does it make a difference in that apparently the school board never heard of the Wedge document (so they say) and did not read the drafts of Pandas?

Dave S wrote:

Does it make a difference in that apparently the school board never heard of the Wedge document (so they say) and did not read the drafts of Pandas?

Not necessarily. The plaintiffs are arguing purpose and effect, and either one is sufficent to document an establishment clause violation under the Lemon test. Even if the school board itself did not have a religious purpose in mind (and there is good evidence that in fact they did), if the book they recommended is inherently religious then their policy still has the effect of endorsing a particular religious viewpoint.

Wow, I love this blog. That was an excellent rundown.

My question is, in the depths of arcana about Establisment violations, have we had any broader moments that address the larger concern, e.g. "what is wrong with teaching the Bible as science?"

I am cross-fingered that the judge sends the school board packing, but for the public at large the big issue is why the Bible is not valid as scientific commentary. Many people, my students included, are confused because frankly they don't understand enough about science or the Constitution to "get" the seriousness of what is going on (which is why the, "hey, what are you mad about we only want to teach creation" argument resonates with more folks than it should).

Good points, Ed. ID proponents like to distinguish between ID and Creationism on the grounds that Creationism stems from a literal interpretation of Genesis while ID has no religious component.

But the "scientific creationism" that was the subject of litigation in, for example, McLean asserted exactly what ID currently asserts. "Scientific creationism" purported to be a completely secular, scientific endeavor with no implication that the creator had to be some kind of god -- and certainly not the Christian God.

Same thing in Edwards.

All these same issues that are coming up in Dover have been litigated before. It's the same arguments. Only the names have changed.

(Transcripts and other documents from the McLean litigation are available at:

You can see that it's all the same evidence and arguments all over again.)

Some Guy wrote:

My question is, in the depths of arcana about Establisment violations, have we had any broader moments that address the larger concern, e.g. "what is wrong with teaching the Bible as science?"

From the standpoint of the establishment clause, this isn't a terribly relevant question. If the Supreme Court is right in applying the establishment clause to such cases, it doesn't really matter whether teaching the bible as science is a good idea or a bad idea, the fact that it's unconstitutional is all that matters. Now, the notion that it's a good idea to teach the bible as science is an absurd one and easily defeated, but that's a separate question from whether it's constitutional or not.

I have been baffled by the depth of commitment the ID supporters seem to have for insuring that their "creationist" beliefs become the governing curriculum in the public's education. While it is highly likely that those who create the policies and texts at DI, and its affiliated supporting groups, realize that much of what they put out is mythological rhetoric, and also most likely that their faith based supporters believe in these same myths, i am troubled that the leaders of these groups don't realize the long-term implications of such curricula on the overall well being of this nation. Do these people really truly accept the concept that a theocratic US government will provide the necessary economic and technological development sufficient to compete in the 21st century??

I was particularly alarmed by this quote from one of DI's benefactors--James Dobson.

"Two starkly contrasting worldviews predominate today's moral and cultural debate," Dobson said in an e-mail response to questions from The Boston Globe. "One side defends the traditional values that have made this nation great for more than 225 years; the other works to chisel away at that foundation."

Dobson must know, that this statement is clearly false. He isn't that stupid and ignorant of the US history and the machinations of political power over these 200+ years. Thus his goals, while shrouded in the espousing of myths, must be practical and based on economic/ political considerations that will manifest power for his friends and himself. And yet, it is the failure of these same myths, and the releasing of their hold over authority for 1500 years, that have spurred the massive growth in knowledge, technological advances, and burgeoning economic power of the masses that have been what has made this nation great. It is therefore unlikely that one could have it both ways. I just don't get it.

It is therefore unlikely that one could have it both ways. I just don't get it.

The response from the fundamentalist right is surprisingly complex, and it certainly isn't internally consistent. I've heard some Christian apologists argue that everything positive that has come out of Western civilization--including democracy and virtually all technology--would not have been possible if not for the Christian faith of its great innovators. This is so manifestly false I can only term it wishful thinking or propaganda.

Other fundamentalists really and truly believe that there is no conflict between accepting the literal truth of the Bible and societal progress. They see evolution denial and a manned mission to Mars as neither practically nor philosophically incompatible. (Indeed, the former is probably true in the short term...) I suspect that most of those in this camp are disturbed and horrified by the implications of philosophical naturalism, and they therefore see selectively undermining methodological naturalism in certain disciplines as a noble goal--wherever there is conflict with the Bible or simply wherever they see atheistic implications. I would put most of the ID advocates into this camp.

There is also a group of dispensationalist and Christian nation whackjobs--fringe, but frighteningly numerous--who simply don't care what effect evolution denial and other anti-science policies will have. God will favor America with success once it is put on the right path. Period. The End Times are so near anyway, who cares about the country's educational and technological prospects in a century?

By Andrew_Wyatt (not verified) on 10 Oct 2005 #permalink

Some of the Exhibits from Dr. Forrest's testimony have been released.

Here for example are graphs that compare word counts ('creationism' and 'creation' vs, 'intelligent design' and 'design' respectively) in the various drafts of Pandas.

The obvious feature is how in 1987 there was a sudden and rapid switchover in terminology, one term simply switched with the other.

Why? Edwards v. Aguillard, that's why.

There's also a slide that shows the, ahem, evolution, of the paragraph where cretionism/design is defined. Creation and Intelligent Design are obviously interchangeable.

Finally, there's the bang-on humour of Mike Argento's comment on the cross-examination.

The Thomas More Law Center is founded on the premise of defending and promoting the religious freedom of Christians.

Not all Christians. Christians who believe in separation of church and state -- and there are a lot of them -- can go to hell, as far as they're concerned.

And you could say the law center has an interest in creating more Christians of the stripe that will need defending, legalwise. I guess that's the promotion part.

And I'm glad to report that, judging from Day Seven of the Dover Panda Trial, it's working.

About the time that Richard Thompson, head law guy at the Thomas More center and chief defender of the Dover Area School Board, started his third year of cross-examination of philosopher Barbara Forrest, it was easy to imagine that at that moment, everyone in the courtroom, including Forrest, who doesn't believe in God, was violating the separation of church and court by appealing to God for it to please, Lord, just stop.

Continue reading. It's a hoot. That's a transcript that should be a blast.