Tuesday, October 25, 2005

¿Habla usted español tambien, Elsie?

With all the fuss over hurricanes, Supreme Court nominees, and the probable indictments this week of high-ranking Bush administration criminals, the
"intelligent design" trial
taking place in Harrisburg, PA, is getting little attention from the mainstream media.

This is a shame. The entertainment value of watching biblical creationists scrambling to unearth some kind of probative evidence to back up their naked opinions -- which, of course, is what a court trial requires -- is a lot higher than, say, mundane photos of Judith Miller being let out of prison or Karl Rove being hauled off to one.

Almost daily some good reporting in the small town York Daily Record (home of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board) spins off into obscurity, unnoticed by most of the rest of us on Earth. Staff reporters Lauri Lebo and Michelle Starr are doing some mighty heavy lifting, trying to provide conventionally balanced 'on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand that' reporting when there isn't much "on the other hand" to it. Still, the Daily Record doesn't want to offend the local Neanderthals intelligently designed bible-thumpers. That's a job better left to columnist Mike Argento, who puts the case in context three times a week in his humor column.

A running transcript of the actual trial testimony is available on Talk Origins.org. The defendant school board members -- or at least those who remained on the board after the smarter ones quit in disgust or embarrassment -- began the defendant side of the case last week.

It's been a tough go so far. Quite a few defense expert witnesses seem to have bailed out after it became apparent they wouldn't be allowed merely to deliver one-sided Oral Robert-style lectures to a credulous audience, but instead they'd have to endure cross-examination by card-carrying Darwinian lawyers who know something about logic, reality, proof, and the scientific method. According to blogger Panda's Thumb, the first defense witness, Michael Behe, was so thoroughly discredited that his career may have been 'terminally demolished'.

"Will all the rest of the [defendant's] scheduled experts actually show up for a big helping of what Behe had?" Panda's Thumb asks. Unhappily enough for the school board, it seems a few will. In the end, the defendants may wish they'd all stayed home.

Yesterday, Defense Witness No. 2, Steven Fuller, took the stand. He's an obscure sociology professor who teaches "philosophy of the social sciences" at Warwick College in England.

Fuller wound up testifying "at the moment, evolutionary theory is a better explanation of the biological world." His only argument seems to have been that Darwinian evolution is so broadly accepted by so many scientists that "affirmative action" is needed to keep so-called 'intelligent design' notions from being "marginalized in cult status."

"[I]ntelligent design," the York Daily Record reports he said from the witness stand, "sits on the fringe of science."

And, that was a witness for the anti-Darwinists on the school board!
Fuller told the court that one of the problems of science is with the very definition of 'scientific theory,' which is the idea of well substantiated explanations that unify a broad range of observations. He said by requiring a theory to be 'well substantiated,' it makes it almost impossible for an idea to be accepted scientifically.
Get it? The problem with science is it requires that crackpot theories be subjected to rigorous scientific testing before they are palmed off on school students. What is education coming to?

As reporters Lebo and Starr correctly point out, in proposing that so-called 'intelligent design' theory be taught in school, "Fuller was actually proposing the definition for hypothesis — an untested idea... ." Or, as columnist Mike Argento puts it less politely:
What Fuller was suggesting ... is that science won't let intelligent design in merely because it doesn't meet the requirements of a scientific theory, as far as science is concerned.

In fact, he said to call intelligent design a scientific theory, you had to change the definition of a scientific theory. The last defense witness who did that said his definition of a scientific theory included astrology.

Fuller said intelligent design is, essentially, a half-baked idea, pretty much something the intelligent design guys have whipped up without doing much in the way of producing evidence.

And that's why it should be taught to ninth-graders in Dover.
"You know," the columnist reflects, "I can come up with a lot of half-baked ideas that no one in their right mind would want to teach to kids in Dover. Let's see. How about this? Cows think in Spanish. Discuss.

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