Friday, October 07, 2005

You Say Theory...

Dr. Barbara Forrest took a moment in her testimony yesterday morning to clarify an important distinction that some people may have been ignoring lately:

"A theory is well established science," she said. "When you propose an idea, it is a hypothesis. When a person purports to have a scientific theory, the research has already been done."

Defense counsel Richard Thompson responded, "Would you agree that there are different definitions of theory?"

"In science, there is one," Dr. Forrest answered. "It is an explanation that is confirmed."

Later she said, "All people who are bonafide scientists produce data. Peer review is based on sharing of data."

Mr. Thompson spent much of his cross examination today circling around the issue of whether Dr. Michael Behe has submitted his work on intelligent design for peer review and whether that work is scientific. Dr. Forrest answered in several different ways that, while Behe was engaged in some scientific research, he was not gathering data to support a theory of intelligent design, nor submitting his work to peer review through attending scientific forums or submitting his work to journals. Behe himself has stated that, "I just don't think that scientific forums are effective for presenting these ideas."

Mr. Thompson went on to read a long list of venues (including universities) where Behe had spoken, but could not specify whether Behe spoke on intelligent design. Dr. Forrest noted that one of the events Mr. Thompson mentioned was organized by proponents of creationism, while another was organized by Catholic Youth Ministries.

She said, "The fact that scientists have responded [to Behe] does not make his work science." Forrest added, "Scientists do not usually defend their ideas in church."

Towards the end of her testimony this morning, Dr. Forrest was asked about the title of her book, Creationism's Trojan Horse. She said that the title was suggested by her publisher, Oxford University Press, but she and her co-worker deemed it an appropriate characterization of intelligent design proponents.

"The Greeks offered a wooden horse, a trojan horse as a gift. In truth, what that gift contained was … the destruction of the city," said Forrest. Intelligent design theorists are "offering a balanced scientific theory, [but] it is a religious belief described as a scientific theory. It would not be beneficial" to teach in public schools.

Dover High School science teacher Jennifer Miller followed Dr. Forrest on the stand. A thirteen-year veteran of the Dover public schools, Ms. Miller took a similar stance to Dr. Forrest about the so-called benefits of addressing intelligent design in ninth grade biology class. She said that if teachers taught students that evolution is important, and then turned around to read a statement encouraging students to read Of Pandas and People, which says evolution doesn't exist, that would be confusing. "It misrepresents how important evolutionary theory is for students," said Ms. Miller.

Ms. Miller also testified that use of Pandas was inappropriate for ninth graders because the language was "at too high a level" and because she had "questions" about the how scientific its conclusions were.

Ms Miller confirmed previous testimony, stating that teachers were consistently kept out of the loop of curriculum changes regarding the subject of ID. In 2002, teachers made "sure that [the biology] curriculum was realigned with the state standards" without school board participation. In contrast, the school board spearheaded the inclusion of intelligent design into biology lessons, failing to consult teachers at key points or take their concerns into consideration.

Ms. Miller related an event at the October 17th meeting. School Board member Jeff Brown had expressed concern that the inclusion of intelligent design language into the lesson would be illegal and teachers might sue the board. School Board member Heather Geesy said "if the teachers sue us, they should be fired because they agreed to this." Ms. Miller remembered that she "jumped out of her seat and ran to the podium and said we had not agreed to [the changes]."

Ms. Miller was also asked about a mural created "as a senior project showing the evolution of man." The mural, donated by the student, had been on display in one of the Dover High School science classrooms until, but disappeared suddenly. At a June 7th, 2004 meeting, Board member William Buckingham was asked what happened to it. According to Ms. Miller, Mr. Buckingham answered "I believe that [school custodian] Woody watched it burn."

Submitted by Amy Laura Cahn, Community Education Organizer, ACLU of Pennsylvania

5 Comments:

Anonymous John P said...

Ms. Miller was also asked about a mural created "as a senior project showing the evolution of man." The mural, donated by the student, had been on display in one of the Dover High School science classrooms until, but disappeared suddenly. At a June 7th, 2004 meeting, Board member William Buckingham was asked what happened to it. According to Ms. Miller, Mr. Buckingham answered "I believe that [school custodian] Woody watched it burn."

That's incredible. They burned a student's art contribution? What next? Torturing cats?

1:42 PM  
Blogger FishyFred said...

The labeling of ID as a "theory" was what struck me about Thompson's cross examination of John Haught. He constantly referred to it as a "scientific theory" and what ended up happnening was that he asked a number of questions that in the end will mean nothing, assuming Judge Jones writes his opinion to reflect that ID is not scientific.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Joffan said...

The theory point seems to have been well-handled on the science side of things - good progress I think...

5:24 PM  
Blogger maurile said...

"A theory is well established science," she said. "When you propose an idea, it is a hypothesis. When a person purports to have a scientific theory, the research has already been done."

Dr. Forrest's statement is not consistent with how scientists actually use the word "theory." As Sean Carroll points out, "phlogiston theory didn’t stop being a theory once we knew it wasn't true."

ID isn't a non-theory just because there's been no research supporting it. It's a non-theory because it's not falsifiable.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous gayboy said...

What's next you ask? Banning books of course. Or perhaps burning them.

6:48 PM  

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