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Five Years Later, Evolutionary Immunology and other Icons of Kitzmiller v. Dover Not Holding Up Well

Judge Jones might not realize it, but in a recent article in the York Dispatch he admitted that his ruling in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case amounted to judicial activism. He stated: “The decision seems to be holding up well … No other school district has engaged in this kind of a battle. I hope that’s a product of the decision and perhaps the way that I wrote the decision.” As Lawrence Baum writes in his book American Courts: Process and Policy, “[w]hen judges choose to increase their impact as policymakers, they can be said to engage in activism; choices to limit that impact can be labeled judicial restraint.” By admitting that he sought to impact the policy decisions of parties outside of the ones in his case, Judge Jones shows his ruling engaged in judicial activism.

But is Judge Jones’ decision actually “holding up well”? Not if we judge it by the science.

Judge Jones showcased three scientific examples in his ruling which supposedly showed that “ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.” These examples were: the flagellum, the blood clotting cascade, and the immune system. In the last few years we’ve seen that:

But what about the immune system? In an ID the Future podcast released today, microbiologist and immunologist Don Ewert gives a strong critique of Judge Jones’ treatment of irreducible complexity and the immune system.

For those who don’t recall, during the Kitzmiller trial the plaintiffs’ attorneys performed a literature dump on Michael Behe which was claimed to show Darwinian explanations for the origin of the immune system.

This episode of courtroom theatrics impressed Judge Jones so much that he wrote that “Between 1996 and 2002, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system. ” (Actually, it’s arguable that Judge Jones didn’t originally write those words–he essentially copied them from an ACLU brief which stated: “between 1996 and 2005, various studies confirmed each element of the evolutionary hypothesis explaining the origin of the immune system.”)

Don Ewert has read the papers from the original literature dump, as well as more recent papers on the evolution of the immune system, and he finds that Behe was correct to argue that these papers don’t provide a Darwinian explanation for the origin of the immune system. As Ewert states: “with reference to the literature that was presented at Dover, there’s a lack of reasonable proof that the immune system has been derived by the Darwinian mechanism, and I think Behe was justified in his statement–the literature has no good answer for the origin of the immune system.”

In the podcast, Ewert calls the literature dump “a masterful feat of courtroom deception” and explains that these papers base their arguments off of mere sequence similarity, which do not provide evidence of a Darwinian pathway:

The fundamental assumption that one finds in all these [evolutionary] scenarios is that similarity, that is homology, is proof of relationship. And that’s really the question: Is homology a proof of a relationship?

Just because I find that the structure of the antibody receptor places that in a class of proteins called the immunoglobulin superfamily–and we find these distributed through other species–is that proof that they actually evolved one from the other?

Similarity is basically circumstantial evidence for some relationship. But it does not define what that relationship is.

One can easily see how a common ancestor… can equally be replaced by a common designer who used similar structures in different organisms to perform similar functions. So in and of itself, homology or similarity is not proof of evolutionary relationship. So the scenarios that are developed in these review articles are basically ones that try to use the evidence of homology as a justification for developing some kind of pathway for which there is no empirical evidence.

According to Ewert, the evidence is best explained by intelligent design:

The immune systems of each organism really amount to a hierarchical matrix of integrated components that is regulated at multiple levels. Pointing out similarities at the structural level does not address the origin of the system in which the components are integrated.

The origin of the adaptive immune system of vertebrates is a major problem. It’s been characterized as the ‘big bang’ of immunology and when you look at the complexity of that system it’s almost beyond the grasp of any evolutionary [explanation] putting it together in that short a period of time, even if you start with some of the components already in other species. But I believe the literature of comparative immunology, coupled with the findings of systems biology, provides ample evidence for intelligent design. …

I think the Darwinian model is becoming less tenable as research in systems biology is revealing the hierarchical matrical structure of biological systems. The closest thing that I have found that these systems are analogous to would be like the control systems on a manmade machines like a Boeing 777.

Ewert concludes:

Any knowledgeable immunologist must realize that immunology was used at the trial to create a bluff to make it appear as if Darwinian evolution had solved the origin of the immune system. Actually nothing could be further from the truth.

Basically in conclusion I would say the Kitzmiller – Dover trial was important for several reasons. But one that stands out to me is the way that science was used to form an opinion about an important subject. The truth was distorted and mixed with opinion. And Judge Jones was actually very carefully handled by the plaintiffs. I really think this debate needs to move back into the scientific arena and not the courts or the public media.

For details, listen to the podcast.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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