Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Fought ID and Won

Last night well_lahdidah and I went to see Eric Rothschild, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al case, speak on Penn's campus.

Small points:
For an event on a college campus, I was surprised to see that the audience contained very few college students. I was also surprised at how many people arrived late, though not so much surprised that this group contained a higher percentage of college students than the on-time audience. I am not surprised that I heard cell phones ringing during the presentation, but somewhat surprised that they had reception in a concrete-covered basement auditorium. I know I didn't.

Mr. Rothschild spoke about the three main points his team had to make:
  • Intelligent Design is religious.
  • Intelligent Design is creationism.
  • Intelligent Design is not science.

Although the defendants certainly attacked evolutionary theory, I think it is interesting to note that defending evolution theory was not a key element of the plaintiff's argument. And why should it be? Additions to the curriculum should be evaluated on their own merit.

Although a photo showed a throng of reporters, demonstrating the amount of national press coverage the trial received, he talked about the important role the local media played, particularly in showing the religious and Creationist motives of members of the Dover School Board. He talked about how the different players (his law firm, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the National Center for Science Education) worked together and how the NCSE in particular helped the team understand the foundations of evolution and science in general. He added a personal, human touch to the trial by mentioning how his mother was proud that his caricature appeard in a New Yorker cartoon, and how his 8-year-old son mimicked courtroom drama (pointing and saying, "You LIED to me"), and discussions on who would play whom in the movie version (George Clooney as Eric Rothschild).

My favorite part was when he showed some of the evidence they used in the case. 60 copies of an Intelligent Design textbook, Of Pandas and People, were donated anonymously to the school district, and school board members repeatedly denied any knowledge of where the books came from. That is, until the plaintiffs produced a check from board member Buckingham to board member Bonsall's father for $850, including a memo with the book title. $850 that was collected at Buckingham's church.

The publisher of the book, Foundation for Thought & Ethics, was subpoenaed for previous drafts of the text. Rothschild showed us a slide of 4 different drafts, with mentions of Creationism and Creator highlighted in red as they changed from draft-to-draft to mentions of Intelligent Design and a Designer. (The red highlights I found particularly amusing, as it conjured up in my mind images of the New Testament with the word's of Jesus Christ highlighted in red.)

Buckingham had made a variety of religious statements and talked about Creationism at school board meetings, which was reported by the local papers. Buckingham had been advised later by the Thomas More Law Center to avoid using the terms Creationism or Creation Science and to instead use the term Intelligent Design, so he naturally denied having made statements about Creationism and said that the newspaper reporters must be mistaken. The lawyers countered, these newspapers were delivered to your door every day, with articles about you, and you never saw them? None of your neighbors mentioned these to you? No, he said, he was unaware of the articles. Then they showed a clip of the local Fox News channel with him on tape, talking about Creationism. Which he then said was a mistake, he'd said the wrong thing, that it was on his mind because of all the newspaper articles about Creationism.

The Wedge Document, developed by the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture. As posited in the Wedge Document, the Intelligent Design Movement's "Governing Goals" are to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies" and "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God." Although Mr. Rothschild didn't mention it in his presentation, I read later that no one of the Dover School Board was familiar with the Wedge Document. However, that was deemed irrelevant, as the Wedge Document was merely used to show that Intelligent Design is religious and linked to Creationism, regardless of ID proponent's knowledge of the document.

At any rate, it was great to see Rothschild talk about how they proved their arguments, and also to hear about the desperate and low-down tactics used by the Intelligent Design proponents. well_lahdidah told me about a part of The Princess Bride in which a character says, "When they start biting, you know their arms are getting weak." It seems to be a good description of the desperate tactics of an opponent that can't win a fair fight.

There was a question and answer session afterwards. We expected that the questions would be better than some other recent events we've attended, thanks to the lack of college students. I was mildly surprised to find a couple dissenters in the audience. The first accused Eric Rothschild of missing the point, and said that if the debate was re-framed in a different manner he would see his mistakes, and he talked of determinism, and basically threw around a bunch of terms that tried to hide ID under a new guise and bluster Rothschild. Although Rothschild answered only part of the man's question before moving on, he seemed only mildly ruffled, and I have a feeling he is used to such arguments. This man had a friend who chimed in later, "I'm a physician and I think you have it wrong...." (To which well_lahdidah commented, "You know what you call the guy who was last in his class in med school? 'Doctor.'") He proceeded to say that evolution describes a random process, to which Rothschild replied, essentially, that the mutations are random, but the selection is determined by environment.

One questioner warned that we were celebrating too early—this decision was hardly a fatal blow to the creationist movement, as this has been an ongoing legal debate in our country for 80+ years. Eric Rothschild said that was no doubt true, and that ID proponents are already coming up with new terminology, such as "teaching the controversy," but that Judge John Jones' 139-page opinion was written with the idea in mind that it would be a precedent for future cases.

Then there was some jackass, a scruffy student in an orange shirt who came in late, who was given a mic to ask the last question of the evening. He proceeded to jabber on without asking any questions, recommending books, and making "points" ("another point I'd like to make....") I really wanted someone to tell him to ask a question of the speaker or give up the mic—after all, we were there to hear what Eric Rothschild had to say, not what A Guy In An Orange Shirt had to say—but everyone was too polite.

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