The other day I discussed how, in claiming that intelligent design does not deserve academic freedom, critics commonly appeal to scientific authorities who have issued politically motivated condemnations of ID. But there is another authority these folks often cite, uncritically too. They just love the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, presenting it as if that were the ultimate, unassailable refutation of ID. We affectionately call this the “Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” approach to ID. However, Judge Jones’s ruling includes numerous false claims about law and science, on top of other deficiencies, that make it a highly inaccurate and unreliable analysis of intelligent design.
For example, Judge Jones:
- Employed a false definition of ID, wrongly holding that it requires “supernatural creation” — a position refuted during the trial by ID proponents who testified and in other evidence given to the judge.
- Ignored the positive case for design and falsely claimed that ID proponents make their case solely by arguing against evolution.
- Used a six-part test for analyzing whether ID is science, yet on each of those parts his analysis was wrong and/or irrelevant. (More on this below.)
- Wrongly claimed ID started with Thomas Aquinas, and derived from Christian fundamentalism.
- Misrepresented the Of Pandas and People textbook as if it supported creationism, when in fact its thesis was fundamentally distinct from creationism.
- Overstepped the bounds of his role as a judge and engaged in judicial activism. Jones found that ID had been refuted when in fact he had been presented with credible scientific witnesses and publications on both sides showing evidence of a scientific debate.
- Blundered in his application of the philosophy of science, presuming that being wrong precludes being scientific, and by applying a false dichotomy where he argued that if something isn’t science then it must be religion.
- Dangerously stifled scientific advance by taking the level of support for a theory as a measure of whether it is scientific or not.
- Blatantly ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID peer-reviewed scientific publications that were documented for him and were even the subject of testimony in his own courtroom.
- Blatantly ignored and denied the existence of pro-ID scientific research and data that was likewise the subject of testimony in his own courtroom.
- Made numerous inaccurate (or at least easily challenged) scientific claims about the evolution of the bacterial flagellum, the blood clotting cascade, and the origin of new genetic information.
- Adopted an unfair double standard of legal analysis where religious implications, beliefs, motives, and affiliations count against ID but never against Darwinism.
- Violated a fundamental rule of constitutional law by declaring a religious belief to be “false” from the bench of a U.S. court.
- Copied 90 percent of his celebrated section on whether ID is science either verbatim or nearly verbatim from an ACLU brief.
- Engaged in further judicial activism by presuming that it is permissible for a federal judge to define science, settle controversial social questions, settle controversial scientific questions, settle issues for parties outside of the case at hand. Jones wrote that his ruling would be “a primer” for people “someplace else.”
Critics sometimes attack ID proponents for calling Judge Jones an “activist,” as if we said that simply because we disagreed with the ruling. But the final bullet-point above explains that Judge Jones’s ruling fits scholarly textbook definitions of judicial activism. As Jones himself admitted, he wanted to influence groups that weren’t party to his case, and tried to settle issues beyond the scope of the judiciary. Even a leading anti-ID legal scholar, Boston University law professor Jay Wexler, argues that Judge Jones’s ruling on whether ID is science goes beyond appropriate judicial inquiry:
The part of Kitzmiller that finds ID not to be science is unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous both to science and to freedom of religion.
(Jay D. Wexler, “Kitzmiller and the ‘Is It Science?’ Question,” 5 First Amendment Law Review 90, 93 (2006) (emphasis added).)
What exactly was so wrong with Judge Jones’s section on ID and science? As I’ve already noted, he used a six-part test for analyzing whether ID is science, but each of the criteria he listed was wrongly applied, irrelevant, or both. Here’s what Judge Jones wrote:
(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community …  ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community,  it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor  has it been the subject of testing and research.
Again, each of those six criteria are irrelevant to a determination of whether ID is science and/or Judge Jones’s analysis of that criterion was flat wrong. Let’s consider each of these separately.
- Criterion 1 — ID and the Supernatural: Judge Jones’s analysis was wrong because ID does not invoke supernatural creation, and whether ID permits it is irrelevant to determining whether ID is science. (See here for a more detailed analysis.)
- Criterion 2 — Negative Arguments Against Evolution: Judge Jones’s analysis is wrong because ID — including its arguments from irreducible complexity — in fact offers a strong positive argument. Jones ignored this. His analysis is also irrelevant to determining whether ID is science because scientists often use negative arguments. (See here for a more detailed analysis.)
- Criterion 3 — ID and Scientific Disproof: Judge Jones’s analysis is wrong. He was presented with evidence of a scientific debate, not one side refuting the other. (In fact, many of Judge Jones’s scientific claims are flat out wrong.) Moreover, this analysis is irrelevant because even if he were correct that ID has been refuted, an idea can be mistaken yet still scientific. (See here, here, here, and here, for more detailed analyses.)
- Criterion 4 — ID and Acceptance in the Scientific Community: Judge Jones’s analysis is wrong because there are credible scientists who support ID. His analysis is also irrelevant because the U.S. Supreme Court has expressly rejected the view that the degree of support for an idea determines whether it is scientific. (See here for a more detailed analysis.)
- Criterion 5 — ID and Peer-Review: Judge Jones’s analysis is wrong because ID has generated peer-reviewed publications. It is also irrelevant to determining whether ID is science. (See here for a more detailed analysis.)
- Criterion 6 — ID and Research: Judge Jones’s analysis is wrong because such research indeed exists and was the subject of testimony in his courtroom. It is also irrelevant to determining whether ID Is science. (See here for a more detailed analysis.)
Here are some links for further reading:
- The definitive legal rebuttal to the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling: Intelligent Design Will Survive Kitzmiller v. Dover, by David DeWolf, John West, and Casey Luskin; Montana Law Review, 68:7 (Winter, 2007).
- Dover in Review, by John West
- Whether Intelligent Design is Science: A Response to the Opinion of the Court in Kitzmiller vs Dover Area School District, by Michael Behe
- Not-So-Quick But Nonetheless Dirty Review of the Kitzmiller Decision, by Casey Luskin
- Response to Barbara Forrest’s Kitzmiller Account, by Casey Luskin
- New England Journal of Medicine Traipses into the Kitzmiller Decision by Casey Luskin
- What’s Up with Ronald Numbers? An Analysis of the Darwinist Metanarrative in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, by Casey Luskin
- A Comparison of Judge Jones’s Opinion in Kitzmiller v. Dover with Plaintiffs’ Proposed “Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law”, by John West and David DeWolf
- Traipsing Into Evolution, by David DeWolf, John West, Casey Luskin, and Jonathan Witt
- Do Car Engines Run on Lugnuts? A Response to Ken Miller & Judge Jones’s Straw Tests of Irreducible Complexity for the Bacterial Flagellum, by Casey Luskin
- How Kenneth Miller Used Smoke and Mirrors at Kitzmiller to Misrepresent Michael Behe on the Irreducible Complexity of the Blood-Clotting Cascade, by Casey Luskin
- The NCSE, Judge Jones, and Citation Bluffs About the Origin of New Functional Genetic Information, by Casey Luskin
The bottom line is this: Long after the ruling was handed down, living cells will still always contain digital code and microbiological machines that provide evidence for design. This debate won’t be settled by courts, but by scientists and other scholars who give design a fair hearing.
The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision doesn’t show that ID lacks academic merit because it doesn’t strike down the actual theory of ID. It ignores how ID proponents define their own theory and attacks the critics’ straw-man version of intelligent design. Judge Jones’s ruling is so full of errors of science, of law, and of philosophy that it’s a great model for why we don’t want federal judges trying to settle scientific controversies.
Image: Judge John Jones. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.