Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kitzmiller: Reading the signers

A week or so ago the Discovery Institute, the primary organization promoting "Intelligent Design" (a version of creationism) as an alternative to Darwinian evolutionary theory, filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief [PDF] in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover, where some parents in Dover, Pennsylvania are suing the local school board for trying to insert a religious doctrine into the science curriculum.

The press release announcing the amicus brief said:
Eighty-five scientists have filed an Amicus Brief in the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial asking the Judge to "affirm the freedom of scientists to pursue scientific evidence wherever it may lead"and not limit research into the scientific theory of intelligent design. Not all the signers are proponents of intelligent design, but agree "that protecting the freedom to pursue scientific evidence for intelligent design stimulates the advance of scientific knowledge."

The signers of the brief, identified as “Amici curiae” include such notable scientists as Dr. Philip Skell of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Lyle H. Jensen a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Russell W. Carlson Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Executive Technical Director, Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia.


The brief reads in part:
Amici curiae are scientists who oppose any attempt to define the nature of science in a way that would limit their ability to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. Since the identification of intelligent causes is a well established scientific practice in fields such as forensic science, archaeology, and exobiology, Amici urge this Court to reject plaintiffs' claim that the application of intelligent design to biology is unscientific. Any ruling that depends upon an outdated or inaccurate definition of science, or which attempts to define the boundaries of science, could hinder scientific progress.

Amici are professional scientists who support academic freedom for scientific research into the scientific theory of intelligent design. Some Amici are scientists whose research directly addresses design in biology, physics, or astronomy. Other Amici are scientists whose research does not bear directly upon the intelligent design hypothesis, but feel it is a viable conclusion from the empirical data. Finally, some Amici are skeptics of intelligent design who believe that protecting the freedom to pursue scientific evidence for intelligent design stimulates the advance of scientific knowledge. All Amici agree that courts should decline to rule on the scientific validity of theories which are the subject of vigorous scientific debate.

On Panda's Thumb, Timothy Sandefur does a good job of digging into the meat of the argument made in the brief (as do some of the commenters), but I wanted to take a look at the people who signed it.

One of the first things I noticed (also noted by Reed Cartwright in the comments thread on Panda's Thumb) is that many of the signers do not actually list their current institutional affiliations, simply the place where they received their degrees. Usually when academics sign petitions or public statements such as this, they list their name and the institution they are connected to. Many times, especially if the cause is controversial, a disclaimer will appear at the bottom saying that the affiliations are listed for identification only -- meaning that the signers are speaking for themselves, and not as representatives of their institutions.

In this instance, 38 of the 85 signers of the amicus brief, about 45% of them, do not list any current connection to an institution. This makes it impossible to determine whether those people are actually working scientists or not, since we know absolutely nothing at all about them except where they received their advanced degrees and what field they received them in.

Of the remaining 57 who do list their institutional connections, there are several references to colleges that I was not familiar with, so I went looking at their websites.

Two of the signers, for instance, are professors at Biola University, which describes itself as "a private Christian university ... based on evangelical Christianity". Two others are on the faculty of Huntington University, whose website says it is "an evangelical Christian college." Then there's Dordt College, a "private, Reformed, Christian college" which offers a "biblical, Christ-centered education;" Northwestern College (not to be confused with Northwestern University), which "takes a Biblically Christian ethical and moral position and is theologically conservative in doctrine;" Grove City College, a "top-ranked affordable Christian College;" Malone College, whose mission is "to provide students with an education based on biblical faith;" and Union College which believes it "develops an eternal perspective with assurance in Christ" in its students, who should "operate from a Christ-centered perspective."

In all, 9 of the 57 signers who showed their affiliation (about 16%) are on the faculty of Christian evangelical or Bible-centered colleges -- which leads one to believe that perhaps the signers are not quite as unbiased as the Discovery Institutes press release implied they were -- and, in fact, that turns out to be the case.

A little bit of research led me to determine that fully 72 [Note: Corrected from 73 -- Ed] of the 85 signers were also signatories on the Discovery Institute's "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism," in which they state:

We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life.

In other words, almost 85% [Note: Corrected from 86% -- Ed] of the signers of the "friend of the court" brief in Kitzmiller are fundamentally opposed to Darwinian evolutionary theory. They're not neutral scientists or scholars urging caution on the judge in the name of academic freedom, they're advocates for the intellectual position being taken by the defendants, the very one which is the bone of contention in the case.

(The signers of the "Dissent from Darwinism" are supposed to be "400 eminent scientists," but in fact, just as with the signers of the amicus brief, almost half of them do not list any institutional affiliation, making it, again, impossible to determine their credentials.)

How partisan the list of signers of the amicus brief are can perhaps be gleaned in part by the fact that three of them are, surprise!, Fellows of the Discovery Insitute's Center for Science and Culture (one of them a Senior Felllow), and another is the Center's Program Director! -- and yet there's no indication of any kind that they are anything but "professional scientists" trying to help a judge through a thorny matter. (However, it should be noted that one of the Discovery Insitute Fellows on the list is Dean H. Kenyon, the co-author of Of Pandas and People, the "intelligent design" textbook at the center of the case, whose identity is certainly known to the judge. Forrest M. Mims and Jonathan Wells are the other Fellows -- Wells is the Senior Fellow -- and Stephen Meyer is the CSC Program Director.)

Although the DI's press release makes a big deal about one of the signers being a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and another being a member of the National Academy of Sciences, in fact the AAAS has about 8400 Fellows and the NAS has about 2000 Members, so what's interesting is not that these two signed, but that they were the only ones who did. If "Intelligent Design" really has a substantial following in the scientific community, surely they should be able to find at least a handful of AAAS Fellows or NAS Members to sign, shouldn't they?

Finally, for what it's worth, I note that Forrest M, Mims, who's listed as an "Atmospheric Researcher," is primarily a popular electronics writer, and that the institution he lists as his affiliation, the "Geronimo Creek Observatory" is described on his website as "an open field near Geronimo Creek in South-Central Texas."

Update: Ed Brayton has more on the legal arguments made in the brief on Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Update to this update: I posted a pointer to this post on Dispatches from the Culture War, and Ed Brayton and Dave S. expressed some objections to my arguments:
  • Ed thought that it was "a mistake to point out that many of the signers of the brief are affiliated with Christian universities. It simply has no relevance and it sounds an awful lot like an ad hominem."

    I considered this before I made the post, but decided to go ahead. The institutions I pointed out explicitly tout themselves as "evangelical" or "Bible-centered," which seems to me to be a significant fact and worthy of dissemination, given the relationship of the evangelical movement to the propagation of creationism. Other institutions -- such as Virginia Intermont College (see below) and Baylor University, which are explicitly Christian, but not evangelical or Bible-centered, were not included.

  • Both gentlemen objected to my argument that signing the DI's "Dissent from Darwinism" meant that the signers were "fundamentally opposed to Darwinian evolutionary theory."
    The statement in question does not require opposition, fundamental or otherwise, to evolutionary theory. Indeed, even Richard Dawkins could honestly sign that statement. It is Discovery Institute hype that says that that statement amounts to "dissent from Darwinism"; it does us no good to repeat that hype, since it is fundamentally dishonest.

    This is correct as far as it goes, but rather misses the point. The "Dissent" is indeed so vaguely worded that almost anyone could sign it in good conscience, but only those who live in a vacuum, entirely unaware of the purpose of the Discovery Institute, would sign it without knowing the propaganda value of the statement and to what ends it would be used. If any of the signers have disavowed their affiliation with the statement, and the use the DI has put it to, I'm unaware of it, but I will look into it. However, in the absence of any such information, the signers need to be held accountable for what they signed and the uses to which it was designed to be put.

Clearly, there is very little that can be determined about the people who signed the amicus brief from the bare list of names and affiliations which is the raw material I had to work from. It would be preferable, of course, to do an in-depth search for the writings and expressions of each person individually to evaluate their relationship to the "intelligent design" movement, or even to interview them personally, and perhaps I can make some inroads into at least the former over time -- but bear in mind that all the judge was presented was the list of names and the Discovery Institute's assurance that they were all "professional scientists who support academic freedom," with the clear implication that they had no axe to grind in the case at hand. I think the information I provided shows that, at the very least, this is not the case.

Update: I wanted to add a few other things that I didn't manage to squeeze into the original post:

  • Aside from the 7 evangelical or Bible-centered Christian college I listed above, and the "Geronimo Creek Observatory," there were three other institutions I was unfamilair with and looked into:

    1. Virginia Intermont College is "affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia. However, we encourage freedom of religion." Their website doesn't in any way tout it as Christian, evangelical or Bible-centered.

    2. Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOUCOM), with its odd name and acronym, is "a community-based, state medical school" with no obvious reigious connections.

    3. Tennessee Tech University "is a public, co-educational and comprehensive university," also without apparent religious orientation.

  • Of the 57 signers who provided current affiliations, 8 are listed as "retired" or "emeritus."

  • The 13 signers who did not also sign the "Dissent from Darwinism" are:

    • Richard Anderson (Asst Prof Env. Science and Policy, Duke Univ)

    • Mark A. Chambers (no affiliation given)

    • Lawrence DeNejo (no affiliation given)

    • Kenneth A. Feucht (no affiliation given)

    • Charles M. Garner (Prof of Chemistry, Baylor Univ.)

    • Curtis Hrischuk (no affiliation given)

    • Lyle H. Jensen (Prof [Emeritus], Dept of Biological Structures and Dept of Biochemistry, Univ. of Wash., Fellow AAAS)

    • Christian M. Loch (no affiliation given)

    • John Rickert (no affiliation given)

    • Paul Roschke (Prof., Dept of Civil Engineering, Texas A&M)

    • David W. Rusch (Senior Research Scientist, Lab for Atmospheric & Space Physics, Univ. of Colorado)

    • Theodore J Siek (no affiliation given)

    • Arlen W. Siert (no affiliation given)

    I'll be taking a closer look at these 13, especially the five who provided their affiliations, to see if they have any other connection with the Discovery Institute, creationism or the "intelligent design" movement.

Incidentally, it was very difficult to find on the web the number of Fellows of the AAAS -- I ended up having to call them and ask. The figure they provided (about 8400) is necessarily rough. They elect a couple of hundred of Fellows every year, and have been doing so for quite a long time. Obviously, they can't keep close track of which Fellows are still active or alive.

Update: As I mentioned above I would do, I did some preliminary digging, using Google, on the 13 signers of the amicus brief who were not also signers of the Discovery Institute's "A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" statement. I ran variations of each name along with key words like "intelligent design," "creationism," "Discovery Institute," "evolution," and "Darwinism" to see what would come up. The results were middling:

  • Kenneth A. Feucht (no affiliation given) appears on a list of scientists who doubt the connection between HIV and AIDS, where he's listed as "Surgeon, Anatomist, Cell Biologist, Puyallup, Washington." (He's also listed elsewhere as "FACS," which I believe means "Fellow, American College of Surgeons.")

    On another site he posted a message in which he objected to the inclusion of the following question on a National Science Foundation survey designed to test people's knowledge of science:
    Human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals. (T/F)

    Feucht's objection was on religious grounds, and he complains:

    The essense of this test implies that evolution is such a fundamental notion, it is as obvious as the center of the earth being hot, or the earth taking a year to go around the sun.

    Clearly, here speaks an anti-evolutionist.

  • Charles M. Garner (Professor of Chemistry, Baylor University) is an organic chemist. He's also "one of the few hard scientists at Baylor who supports [William] Dembski's work" at the Michael Polyani Center at Baylor. The Polanyi Center is an outpost of the creationist/intelligent design movement, and Dembski is one of the movement's most prominent public represetatives. (He was later fired as director of the center.)
    According to Garner the center is approaching the study of evolution from a perspective that counters that of most scientists. He said the center studies theistic evolution, which "uses the facts of evolution but also involves God in the crucial points along the way." The alternative, according to Garner, would be atheistic evolution that has "no dominance by God, it is strictly the properties of chemistry and physics that can account for all these things."

    Garner seems clearly to be a disbeliever in Darwinian evolution.

  • Chris Hrischuk (no affiliation given) is the author or co-author of a paper or essay titled "The Compatibility of Science and Christianity", which one person glossed this way: "A Christian is a more consistent scientist." Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to find the paper on the web.

  • Finally, there's Theodore J. Siek (no affiliation given), who wrote in a letter to the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer
    Intelligent design is a logical conclusion based on scientific observation. Devout evolutionists, creation-research groups, and intelligent-design groups scientifically examine the same evidence but arrive at different interpretations.

    Whatever one believes to be ultimate reality is a matter of faith and religion. The religion of absolute naturalism is promoted in most institutions of higher learning in our nation. This means we are not to apply logic, reason and scientific observation if it leads to the conclusion that there must be an intelligent designer/creator to explain all of what we observe empirically. It is not "teaching religion" to state that intelligent design can explain what we see. To lecture on who the designer or creator is would be teaching religion and hence would not be appropriate in public-school teaching of science. However, forcing an atheistic view of nature with no mention of the alternative interpretations is akin to religious indoctrination and unfair to students and teachers who accept a creator.

    To me and many scientists, the intelligent-design movement is based on scientific observations and is a logical conclusion necessitated by the inability of absolute naturalists to explain how irreducibly complex life evolved and/or developed without miraculous intervention.

    Without a doubt, Siek is an adherent of intelligent design.

Of the 13 people in question, I was able to find information about four, only one of whom was one of the five with listed affiliations. As far as I can tell from what I've seen so far, there's nothing to suggest that the other nine people are believers in "intelligent design" or creationism, or are in any way connected with the Discovery Institute.

If any other avenues of investigation occur to me, I'll post a pointer to my results here.

Finally: One more thing before I close out this post. In my continung colloquy with the folks at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, I learned that at least one person who signed the Discovery Institute's "Scientific Dissent from Darwinism" did so without understanding what the organization is about, that its purpose is to displace Darwinian evolutionary theory. He's Bob Davidson of Bellevue, Washington, and he now says his inclusion on the list is a mistake:

"It's laughable: There have been millions of experiments over more than a century that support evolution," he says. "There's always questions being asked about parts of the theory, as there are with any theory, but there's no real scientific controversy about it."

Davidson began to believe the institute is an "elaborate, clever marketing program" to tear down evolution for religious reasons. He read its writings on intelligent design — the notion that some of life is so complex it must have been designed — and found them lacking in scientific merit.

It's worthwhile keeping in mind that it's certainly possible that people can sign such statements without being entirely aware of what they mean and to what purpose they will be put. If they later determine that they disagree with what they've signed, or the way it's being used, it's incumbent on them to publicly disagree and disavow their signature, just as Davidison has done.

In the case of the amicus brief, given its nature and length and its legal ramifications, it seems unlikely that someone would sign without knowing what they were doing, but I suppose it's possible. If anyone reading this has any information about any of the amicus signers having qualms about have done so, please let me know.

One further thing: I intended to note at the time I posted the original entry, but neglected to do so, that one of the signers of the amicus brief, John A. Bloom, who is listed as Professor of Physics at Biola University, is not on the faculty of the School of Arts and Sciences there. He's listed on the faculty for "Christian Apologetics," which is "designed to help students from all academic disciplines to contend for the faith." The Faculty also includes Philip Johnson (as a "Regular Visiting Professor of Cultural Apologetics"). Bloom is also the "Director of the M.A. Program in Science and Religion," and is listed on the faculty of that program, along with William Dembski (a leading creationist, listed as a Visiting Lecturer) and Paul Nelson (Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture). Presumably, as the Director of the Program, Bloom is in some respect responsible for Dembski and Nelson's inclusion on the faculty of his program.

Update (10/24): I received today a letter from Forrest M. Mims III dated 22 October, which reads, in part:

In your effort to discredit advocates of Intelligent Design, you got it wrong. I used to be primarily an electronics writer, but I have not written a book about electronics in several years. Because you visited and linked to my web site (, you know that. The dates are there.

Since writing all those electronics books, I have concentrated on atmospheric research. You also know this, for my peer-reviewed science papers are also listed on my web site.

I have established a dialogue with several leading skeptics over the Intelligent Design issue, most recently during a visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. While we totally disagree over many issues, our discourse is always cordial. And none of them have ever attempted to misrepresent my background.

As for Geronimo Creek Observatory, many meteorological observatories are located in open fields.

The remainder of the letter -- the full text of which is available here -- lists the various projects connected to the "Observatory".

I'll note that Mr. Mims is incorrect is his assertions about what I "knew" from visiting his website.

Update (10/24): This post is definitely vying for the award as my longest of all time, but I thought it was important to add this:

Today the judge in the Kitzmiller case struck down a second Discovery Institute amicus brief, but not the one discussed here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 10/12/2005 10:13:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
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search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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