Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thanks to Judge Jones, ID Still on Ropes after 5 Years

It's now five years and counting since Judge John Jones III rendered his momentous decision in the now famous Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District case. This legal battle attracted intense media scrutiny, maybe as much as the Scopes trial in its day, but fortunately for empirical science and reason the outcome was radically different.

As readers may recall, it had been the first time a court would determine whether "intelligent design" (ID) could be taught in public classrooms. Proponents of ID, energized by misbegotten "creationists" adopting a new spin game, argued ID could be taught so long as they didn't identify the designer as God. (What the hell else would it be, a freaking alien? Oh wait! Most fundies don't believe in them!)

Fortunately, Judge Jones recognized the import from early on and realized his ground breaking decision would be a template and serve as precedent for many future cases. This meant he had to get it right and he didn't disappoint! In his 139 -page decision he laid the formidable groundwork, for what remains as the only guiding legal precedent on the teaching of ID in public schools. Jones, in an interview, acknowledged that he prepared his extensive decision not just for the case in Dover, DE, but to lay out the basis for other judges who may not be as knowledgeable or have access to the educational resources he did.

In his opinion, Jones forcefully struck down the argument that the ID crowd had a right to teach it, reaffirming that its hidden intent was religious proselytization (since no honest ID'er would claim the designer was other than a god) and hence violated the separation of church and state implicit in the First Amendment. By now, five years since, it's clear Jones' decision provided the science community new momentum to ramp up instruction on evolution and thereby tender a powerful antidote to the mental poison of ID.

According to Eugenie Scott, of the National Center for Science education:

"The science community is now much more attuned to why individual scientists as well as their representative science societies, have to take an interest in local education issues"

It's also clear that scientific groups now recognize that teacher training is the keep to keeping one step ahead of the battle. In 2006, to assist in this, a new journal appeared:'Evolution, Education and Outreach', spefically aimed at K-12 teachers. Meanwhile, science departments across the country have improved their methods for teaching evolution - since if educated people don't understand it, there's nothing to counter the anti-evolutionists.

This is just as well, since some states (mainly in the Old Confederacy) have gone so far down the path to ignorance, they may be beyond salvage. One example is Texas, where an ultra -conservative band of morons in 2008-09 sought to approve new science curriculum standards requiring students be taught "the strengths and weaknesses of evolution" - buzz words for instruction that opens the door to fundamentalist Christian "Young Earth/dinos roamed with humans" jabberwocky. But what can you expect of Tex-Ass?

The latest tactic the Discovery Institute is employing (they're the primary backers and confectionists for ID) is to promote "academic freedom" laws such as one recently signed by Louisiana's little termite gubernator, Bobby Jindal. The same squeaky little obfuscator that delivered a "reply" to Obama's State of the Union last year. But teaching ID as a "supplement" to evolution is no kind of academic "freedom" unless you include the freedom to be an uneducated moron.

The generic error, whether it's for ID or its preecessor creationism, is the assumption that there's an order to the universe, and hence a designer must be responsible for its origin. This is total nonsense. The opposition has arisen not merely from logical arguments and biology, but from experiments and observations in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics and cosmology. Both physicists and biologists, for example, now recognize many systems in which order and complex activity can emerge spontaneously. This leads the dispassionate observer to dispense with any notion of "hidden design" that transcends empirical science.

A biological example, based on in-vitro experimental studies of cancer tumors, is the individual tumor cell. The cell appears as a fluctuation, able to develop by replication.

A cosmological example is the instantaneous formation of the universe by a quantum fluctuation. In his definitive paper, `Universe Before Planck Time - A Quantum Gravity Model', in Physical Review D, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 756, T. Padmanabhan uses as a time coordinate hyperboloids of constant distance, inside the light cone of a point in de Sitter space. The point itself, and its light cone, are the big bang of the Friedmann model, where the scale factor goes to zero. But they are not singular. Instead, the spacetime continues through the light cone to a region beyond. It is this region that deserves the name, the pre -big bang scenario. It is also this basis that provides the model for the instantaneous formation of the universe by a possible quantum fluctuation that arises when one treats the conformal part of space-time as a quantum variable.

Thus, groups that continue to labor under erroneous assumptions of causality and "order" demonstrate a near universal ignorance of modern physics. For example, an ignorance of the fact that simultaneous measurements at the atomic level are fundamentally indeterminate.

This extends to modern cosmology as well. In cosmological terms, the whole concept of "order" has been relegated to a minor and tiny niche of the extant cosmos. For example, the recent balloon-borne Boomerang and MAXIMA UV measurements to do with Type I a supernovae, have disclosed a cosmic content:

7% - ordinary visible matter

93% - dark component, of which:

- 70% is DARK (vacuum) energy and
- 23% is dark matter

In effect, 93% of the universe can't even be assessed for "order" since it can't be seen. In the case of dark matter, one can only discern its presence indirectly by the visible effects on neighboring matter. In the case of dark energy, the underlying physical basis isn't even known - though we know the result is an increase in the acceleration of the universe (arising from a cosmic repulsion attributed to dark energy).

Again, to be clear, if most of the universe is disorderly, or dark-energy-matter then "order" is a non-starter. You can't make a predominantly orderly cosmos from an entity that's dark and irregular, like you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.

Indeed, by current assessment - and discounting plasma abundance-one may reckon that rudimentary order is evident in barely 0.0000001% of the cosmos. And this can all be explained or accounted for by appeal to scientific reasoning or hypotheses. For example, the nebular hypothesis, whereby the original solar nebula progressively collapsed under the force of gravitational attraction, can account for the formation of the solar system.

Let us hope that the impetus from Judge Jones' decision continues, and keep the ID crowd and their dishonest purveyors on their back feet indefinitely!

No comments: