November 15, 2007

cdesign proponentsists

PBS's science program NOVA on Tuesday night ran a by turns edifying and irritating special on the creationist shenanigans that occurred in Dover, PA, in 2005. A couple of fundamentalist Christian knuckleheads called Bonsell and Buckingham tried to smuggle their religion into high school biology class there, an attempt that resulted in a federal bench trial and a 139-page creationist smackdown authored by John E. Jones III, a conservative Republican judge.

An unrepentant Buckingham, who apparently lied under oath at trial, is interviewed calling Judge Jones a “jackass,” and it's reported that Jones and the parents and science teachers who complained against the creationist scam artists received death threats during the proceedings. Feel the Christian love.

All because the creationists are too willfully ignorant to appreciate the elegant and ingenious manner in which the God they claim to worship went about introducing life on Earth: biological evolution.

The two-hour program, which is available for viewing online starting tomorrow, is not kind to the creationists; but neither was Judge Jones's opinion, which referenced the “breathtaking inanity” of the creationist members of the local school board and noted that
It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the [“intelligent design”] Policy.
The so-called intelligent design policy — which has been famously and accurately described as “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” — consisted of the mandated reading in biology class of a fatuous anti-evolution diatribe and the placement in the school of several dozen copies of a creationist textbook, Of Pandas and People.

The books, which Bonsell and Buckingham at one point claimed appeared out of nowhere — creatio ex nihilo, as it were — it turns out were purchased by Bonsell's father with tithes solicited by Buckingham through his church.

One of the more amusing episodes in the special concerned documents obtained by the plaintiffs during pre-trial discovery, documents that showed the evolutionary precursors of the text in Of Pandas and People. The text, which originally contained dozens of references to “creation” and “creationists,” was modified to substitute various permutations of the term “design,” ostensibly so as not to offend the long string of federal and State judicial opinions which have essentially declared creationism and “creation science” to be religious shams masquerading as science and, as such, their inclusion in public school curricula a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Click to see a funny graph. (1987 is the year the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Louisiana creation science [sic] decision, Edwards v. Aguillard. Incidentally, Justice Scalia's Edwards dissent contains possibly the most palpably ridiculous argument ever memorialized on the pages of the United States Reports.)

In one particularly awkward textual substitution, the expression “cdesign proponentsists” appears, an attempt to simply replace “creationists” with “design proponents.”

What makes this especially comical is the reliable demand anti-evolutionists are constantly making, which is for scientists to produce “transitional forms,” that is, creatures intermediate between, for example, land mammals and whales, dinosaurs and birds, or fish and amphibians.

Whenever such creatures are produced — and they are numerous — creationists either somehow deny their status as transitional forms or else demand additional transitional forms representative of the newly created transitional “gap.” So the comedy inheres in the status of “cdesign proponentsists” as a transitional form, hard evidence of the evolution of creationism to intelligent design (without any new data or novel argumentation).

Much of the NOVA special is devoted to reenactments of the bench trial, and especially the testimony of the star creationist witness, Michael Behe. Behe is shown engaging in the time honored creationist device of misrepresenting the work of a scientist, David DeRosier, a professor of biology at Brandeis University.

DeRosier, who has devoted considerable study to the flagellum, the part of a cell which makes it move about, made the mistake of referring to it metaphorically as “a machine.” Behe takes DeRosier's characterization literally, and uses the flagellum as the centerpiece of his “theory” that Jesus the Millwright installed the flagellum into creation fully formed. Behe further alleges that the flagellum is “irreducibly complex,” meaning that if any of its constituent proteins are removed, it's useless for any other purpose.

DeRosier himself turns up to expose Behe's buffoonery, and gives examples of “reducibly complex” flagella, that is, structurally similar yet missing constituent proteins and performing different functions. Behe declined to participate in what his colleagues at Seattle's Discovery Institute — where the cheap tuxedo is maintained — have termed a “propaganda piece.”

In another trial reenactment, a lawyer for the plaintiffs piles Behe's witness box with articles and books discussing the evolution of immune systems, literature Behe essentially claimed didn't exist. He continues to insist that it's “unsatisfactory,” or something.

Then lawyers for the Thomas More Law Center, the "Christian answer to the ACLU" who represented the defendant creationists, complain that Judge Jones overreached in his decision by declaring that intelligent design is not science, despite their specifically having asked him to rule on that very question. There's just no pleasing some people.

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design On Trial, will be viewable at this link. Trial documents and Judge Jones's opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District are archived here.

And TalkOrigins, the internet's premiere biology clearing house, has the complete trial transcripts at this page. The cross examination (“with cheerful mercilessness”) of Michael Behe by Eric Rothschild of Pepper Hamilton is particularly entertaining.


Other Side said...


I wonder how all this fits with the assertions - by some of the mightier brains on the right - that conservatism is the logical next step in the evolution of the political animal.

I think in this instance Behe might be right. Conservative thought, at least that which is practiced locally, is truly irreducibly complex.

JesusIsJustAlrightWithMe said...

Here's the transcript: