My Thoughts On Judgement Day

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed the airing of Judgment Day, Intelligent Design on Trial. Fortunately, I was able to download it using Bit Torrent. I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that I had followed the trial, read all the transcripts and the ruling, and have been following the cdesign proponentsist movement since the early 1980’s (anybody remember the debate about prokaryotes and eukaryotes that occurred between Isaac Asimov and Duane Gish in Discover Magazine?).


I was, however, pleasantly surprised. I think the producers did an excellent job explaining the issues and recapturing some of the tension the trial created. One of the things that struck me, while watching, was how pivotal Behe’s and Minnich’s testimony was in winning the case for science. ID advocates howl about how plaintiffs engaged in a massive “literature bluff” on the immune system questioning, but they really miss the point about what happened. Below are some extended quotes from the trial transcripts:

Q. We’ll return to that in a little while.
2 Let’s turn back to Darwin’s Black Box and
3 continue discussing the immune system. If you
4 could turn to page 138? Matt, if you could
5 highlight the second full paragraph on page 138?
6 What you say is, “We can look high or we can
7 look low in books or in journals, but the result
8 is the same. The scientific literature has no
9 answers to the question of the origin of the
10 immune system.” That’s what you wrote, correct?
11 A. And in the context that means that the
12 scientific literature has no detailed testable
13 answers to the question of how the immune system
14 could have arisen by random mutation and natural
15 selection.
27 16 Q. Now, you were here when Professor Miller
17 testified?
18 A. Yes.
28 19 Q. And he discussed a number of articles on
20 the immune system, correct?
21 A. Yes, he did.
29 22 Q. May I approach, Your Honor?
23 THE COURT: You may.
30 24 Q. I’m just going to quickly identify what
25 these articles are. Exhibit P-256,
11
1 “Transposition of HAT elements, links
2 transposable elements, and VDJ recombination,”
3 that’s an article in Nature by Zau, et al.
4 P-279, an article in Science, “Similarities
5 between initiation of VDJ recombination and
6 retroviral integration,” Gent, et al.
7 “VDJ recombination and RAG mediated
8 transposition in yeast,” P-280, that’s in
9 Molecular Cell by Platworthy, et al. P-281
10 in the EMBO Journal, “En vivo transposition
11 mediated VDJ recombinates in human T
12 lymphocytes,” Messier, et al, spelled like the
13 hockey player. P-283, it says PLOS Biology,
14 do you recognize that journal title?
15 A. Yes. It stands for Public Library of
16 Science.
31 17 Q. And that’s an article by Kapitnov and
18 Gerka, RAG 1-4 and VDJ recombination, signal
19 sequences were derived from transposons.”
20 P-747, an article in Nature, “Implications
21 of transposition mediated by VDJ recombination
22 proteins, RAG 1 and RAG 2, for origins of
23 antigen specific immunities,” Eglewall, et al.
24 P-748 in The Proceedings of the National Academy
25 of Science, “Molecular evolution of vertebrate
12
1 immune system,” Bartle, et al., and now finally
2 Exhibit P-755 in Blood , “VDJ recombinates
3 mediated transposition with the BCL 2 gene
4 to the IGH locus and follicular lymphoma.”
5 Those were the articles in peer reviewed
6 scientific journals that were discussed by
7 Mr. Miller which you listened in on, correct?
8 A. I recognize most of them. Some of them I
9 don’t recall, but that’s fine.

*snip*

Q. Now, you on Monday showed the court, or
5 maybe it was Tuesday you showed the court that
6 you had done a literature search of articles on
7 the immune system looking for the words “random
8 mutation,” correct?
9 A. Yes.

*snip*

Q. We’ll get back to that. Now, these
7 articles rebut your assertion that scientific
8 literature has no answers on the origin of the
9 vertebrate immune system?
10 A. No, they certainly do not. My answer,
11 or my argument is that the literature has no
12 detailed rigorous explanations for how complex
13 biochemical systems could arise by a random
14 mutation and natural selection and these
15 articles do not address that.
50 16 Q. So these are not good enough?
17 A. They’re wonderful articles. They’re very
18 interesting. They simply just don’t address
19 the question that I pose.

Regardless of whether they “address the questions” Behe poses (certainly a debatable proposition) they do show scientists using experimental evidence to try and unravel the problem. Later, in trying to justify himself Behe says:

Not only would I need a step-by-step,
12 mutation by mutation analysis, I would also
13 want to see relevant information such as what
14 is the population size of the organism in which
15 these mutations are occurring, what is the
16 selective value for the mutation, are there any
17 detrimental effects of the mutation, and many
18 other such questions.
63 19 Q. And you haven’t undertaken to try and
20 figure out those?
21 A. I am not confident that the immune system
22 arose through Darwinian processes, and so I do
23 not think that such a study would be fruitful.

Later, in cross examination Minnich is asked:

Q. Dr. Minnich, another complaint that’s often
24 brought up, and plaintiffs’ experts brought it
25 up in this case, is that intelligent design is
119
1 not testable. It’s not falsifiable. Would you
2 agree with that claim?
3 A. No, I don’t. I have a quote from Mike
4 Behe. “In fact, intelligent design is open to
5 direct experimental rebuttal. To falsify such
6 a claim a scientist could go into the
7 laboratory, place a bacterial species lacking
8 a flagellum under some selective pressure,
9 for motility say, grow it for ten thousand
10 generations and see if a flagellum or any
11 equally complex system was produced. If that
12 happened my claims would be neatly disproven.”
289 13 Q. Is this an experiment that could be done
14 in a lab?
15 A. It could be, and I, you know, would say
16 that, you know, up the ante. I’ll give somebody
17 a time three secretory system intact and the
18 missing proteins required to convert it into a
19 flagellum and let them go, see if you can get a
20 flagellum from a type three system. That’s a
21 falsifiable doable experiment. That’s just the
22 type of experiment that could be subjected to
23 this type of analysis.
290 24 Q. Would this be an experiment that you would
25 do?
120
1 A. You know, I think about it, I would be
2 intrigued to do it. Knowing the tolerance
3 limits for these proteins and how they would
4 assemble I wouldn’t expect it to work. But
5 that’s my bias.
291 6 Q. You think natural selection could account
7 for that, take the type three secretory system,
8 the additional proteins, and see if natural
9 selection can build a bacterial flagellum from
10 that?
11 A. I’m not convinced that it could, but again
12 it’s a plausible experiment. They should write
13 a grant and see if we can do it.

This, in a nutshell, is why ID lost at Dover. The contrast between the experiments embodied in that stack of papers and books vs the lack of any interest in performing experimental checks on their own ideas on the part of ID advocates spelled their doom.
The Nova documentary does an excellent job of showing just how scientifically impoverished the ID side was. The documentary goes deeper than that, though. In bits and pieces throughout the documentary the story of Bryan Rehm and Lauri Lebo emerge. Rehm was a high school physics teacher at Dover for several years. He eventually ran for a place on the school board. Despite the fact that he is a christian and actively involved in the church he and his family had a lot of mud flung their way by christians upset at the trial. Lauri’s story is even more compelling, but you will have to watch the video. What both show, however, is the bitter divisiveness brought about by the Wedge. The cultural impact of the Discovery Institute and their plan for science education has spread far beyond the classroom. No surprise there, when push comes to shove ID is about God and God don’t take prisoners…
Update: PZ points out that there were a number of factors that conspired to doom ID. I agree. The point I was making is that Behe was presented with a mound of experiments, which he promptly dismissed. When asked about experiments he had performed to support ID he actually seemed puzzled and uninterested in doing any experiments to support his theory. The contrast is stark and clearly demonstrated the unscientific nature of ID.
As final thought, guess who is coming to St. Louis?

7 Responses

  1. I also enjoyed it. I finally watched the last part last night (on VHS no less) and two comments back to back from Bonsell and Buckingham made me stare in stupefaction.
    Bonsell said he never imagined when he joined the school board that they would end up in federal court because of a “one-minute statement.” He shook his head and repeated it again, “A one-minute statement.” As if the length of the statement, not the content, were in question. They could have just said, “Darwin was wrong, God is great, look it up for yourselves” and they still would have been at fault. It reveals his utter cluelessness perfectly.
    In the very next clip, Buckingham says it’s not like they asked the science teachers to be Catholic priests, or ministers, or anything like that, just to tell the kids that the theory is out there. How can he not see that a simple statement like that just completely undermines the entire premise??
    Stunning.

  2. I also enjoyed it. I finally watched the last part last night (on VHS no less) and two comments back to back from Bonsell and Buckingham made me stare in stupefaction.
    Bonsell said he never imagined when he joined the school board that they would end up in federal court because of a “one-minute statement.” He shook his head and repeated it again, “A one-minute statement.” As if the length of the statement, not the content, were in question. They could have just said, “Darwin was wrong, God is great, look it up for yourselves” and they still would have been at fault. It reveals his utter cluelessness perfectly.
    In the very next clip, Buckingham says it’s not like they asked the science teachers to be Catholic priests, or ministers, or anything like that, just to tell the kids that the theory is out there. How can he not see that a simple statement like that just completely undermines the entire premise??
    Stunning.

  3. No one could have ever predicted a Wedge would divide people.
    That’s one of the worst things about conservative Christians: their hypocritical claims about love when their aims (as seen in their actions) are to spread divisiness and hate.

  4. Today I was scanning the discussion forums on PBS.org — plenty of chatter about the Nova program. The thought occurred to me: If I had any doubts about the validity of the theory of evolution, the arguments (and lies and lack of logic) of the cdesign proponentists would persuade me that their position is untenable.
    I’m not a scientist. (I’m a librarian.) I avoided science classes in high school and college. I became interested in this issue because of a conversation with a friend that actually incuded the “why are there still monkeys” question.

  5. The archive here doesn’t have those irritating numbers and so may be better for copy/pasting:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12pm.html

  6. The divisiveness has long been out there (and pretty much everywhere). For years before the Dover affair, there would be letters to the editors of the local papers, mostly from Creationists, spouting the same old stuff, with occasional replies from people who knew better. These fit right in with the letters about pagan Christmas and Halloween customs, God is coming real soon, and too many evil people running around. In 2004-2005 the number of such letters skyrocketed, and Judge Jones took note of them.

  7. One key point that was not made on the NOVA program (at least I don’t remember that it was) is that this proposed experiment of Behe’s, the one he doesn’t have any interest in conducting himself, would not be a test of an hypothesis generated from ID “theory”. It makes no positive predictions about what to expect if ID were the mechanism that generated living beings on this planet. It only makes negative predictions about what ID proponents feel that evolutionary mechanisms can NOT do. I feel this point shares at least equal importance to the fact that ID research is not being conducted by its supporters. ID has no positive predictive value to science. It can make no positive predictions that can teach us about the workings of the natural world around us, which is one primary reason why it is NOT science. Its sole purpose is to point out what its supporters believe to be the failure of science in the hopes that ID (i.e., God) can fill the gaps left by those failures.

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