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Saturday, June 25, 2005

UPDATED! Key ID theorist threatens to sue intelligent design supporters in Dover, Pennsylvania case

(Update!: Dembski has just e-mailed me to say that he has been advised that he will be paid for his work on the Dover school board intelligent design case. He and the Thomas More Law Center, which fired him as an expert witness, appear to have resolved their differences. I may not be able to find out any more about this because I don't expect either side has an incentive to play up the story. But if I hear more, I'll link to it. - d.)

Recently, this blog learned that ID theorist Bill Dembski is threatening legal action against the Thomas More Law Center for refusing to pay him for over one hundred hours of time he clocked as an expert witness in the Dover intelligent design case. The Center recently dismissed Dembski as an expert witness, in what sounds like a falling out with the mainstream ID community.

The skinny: The Dover, Pennsylvania, school board seems to want to teach intelligent design theory as well as Darwinism. Some parents, backed by big secularist organizations, have brought suit. Hence the big guns, pro and anti-ID have descended on a small school board for yet another skirmish.

Service note: If you are looking for my extended review of Privileged Planet, go here. If you are looking for information on the showing of Privileged Planet at the Smithsonian, go here and here to start, and then this one will bring you up to date. Also note the post blogged today, re the Smithsonian withholding $5000 of the $16 000 they vowed publicly to return.
To complicate matters, Of Pandas and People, a textbook that introduces intelligent design theory, is circulating in Dover schools and has gotten ensnared in the case. The publishers of the book, Foundation for Thought and Ethics (FTE), realizing that their intellectual property is at risk in this case, were anxious to intervene. And Dembski himself has a cat in the fight because he is the academic editor of the successor to that very textbook.

Briefly, FTE wanted editor Dembski to have separate legal counsel when he testified as an expert witness last June 13, probably because he would be squaring off with an ACLU attorney whose job is partly to make him (and any current and future FTE textbooks) look bad. Thomas More opposed this, according to Dembski.

Having been a textbook editor for many years myself, I would find the position Dembski is in distressing, to say the least. If asked about a textbook for which you are producing a successor, how much can you reveal in a court case without compromising the intellectual property of your client? Many clients today require their editors to sign agreements that include confidentiality clauses. Whether an agreement has been signed or not, is it fair for an editor to be asked to risk violating confidentiality in a civil case?

I would guess that one reason FTE wanted Dembski to have a lawyer was to advise him when he did not actually have to answer a question that impinges on intellectual property rights.

Anyway, Dembski insisted on a lawyer and Thomas More dismissed him. Was that the only reason, or were there other issues, I wonder ... Dembski says that Thomas More is now stalling on paying him for his time which he estimates at 115 hours. So Dembski is now hiring a lawyer to get his fee.

I am asking Thomas More Law Center for a statement about this, and will publish or link to it, if it is provided.

Putting this in a broader perspective:

Discovery Institute, of which Bill Dembski is a fellow, does not support teaching intelligent design theory at the schools level. That’s part of the background to this dispute. In Discovery’s view, ID theory is in an early stage of development and properly belongs in university common rooms, defenses of theses, journals, et cetera. The science information that gave rise to it only emerged in the last thirty years, and was stalled by narrow Darwinism.

Discovery’s main focus is to defend scientists and mathematicians working at the university level from the obsessive attacks of academic Darwinists. Anyone who wants to know what a closed society would feel like and does not wish to move to Iran should check out the "Panda’s Thumb blog.

However, many traditional theists, who accept the abundant evidence of design of the universe, are tired of having the public schools they are legally forced to fund dominated by atheistic philosophies on the grounds that these philosophies are “not religious. ” As I pointed out frequently during the Privileged Planet controversy, it is merely a rhetorical trick to define Carl Sagan’s explicit philosophy (it looks like pure chance) as “not religious” but, say, Guillermo Gonzalez’s explicit philosophy (it looks like some kind of purpose) as “religious.” This trick turns a public school system into an instrument for promoting atheism at the public expense. That is the very opposite of the Americans’ proud boast that they have not “established a religion.” Indeed, they have – the Church of St. Carl (Sagan).

As a result, on this issue my heart is with the Thomas More Law Center, but — my head is with the Discovery Institute. The answer is not to teach intelligent design theory to tots. It is this: Get the atheistic presuppositions out of the school system. Otherwise, a court will end up doing it. And I cringe at the prospect, because legislating from the bench is always a kludge. The closer any education system remains to the experienced classroom teacher’s intuitions, the better.

Luckily, my kids grew up in a jurisdiction (Ontario, Canada) where people can send their kids to publicly funded schools that teach at least one religious orientation other than atheism. In our case, it’s Roman Catholicism. But it’s no secret that many non-Catholic Christians and Muslims send their kids to Ontario’s Catholic schools, in the hope that they will learn some values other than those promoted by the commercials aimed at teens.

Like many Ontarians, I would like to see the Ontario system become much broader than it is now, as long as the Ministry of Education upholds specific standards and conducts tests of knowledge and skills on a regular basis. I don’t see how an open society can assume that any one system has all the answers in education, apart from the evidence that is only available from regular, relevant testing.

If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

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