Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Lecture on the Dover ID Trial

Those of you who live in central Pennsylvania might be interested in this lecture:

The Department of Politics at Messiah College invites you to join us on Tuesday, January 17 from 7:00-8:30pm in Boyer 131 for "Reflections on Kitzmiller v. the Dover Area School District," a presentation by Tom Schmidt, legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the recently concluded intelligent design trial.

Tom Schmidt is attorney-in-charge of Pepper Hamilton LLP, Harrisburg. He graduated from the Dickinson School of Law in 1974--where presently he is an adjunct instructor of advocacy--and received his undergraduate degree from Boston College in 1968. His legal practice includes work in Pennsylvania's Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth Courts. He also maintains a substantial pro bono practice and serves frequently as a court-appointed mediator in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

It should be an interesting talk.

Right-Wing Ideologue?

Well, here's the judge's record. It certainly looks like that of a "right-wing fanatic" as Stuart Taylor lays it out in an article in National Journal:

Affirmative action. The judge has repeatedly blocked or crippled programs designed to protect blacks against the continuing effects of American apartheid. One decision, which struck down a school board's policy of considering race in layoff decisions, thwarted an effort to keep a few black teachers as role models for black students. A second blocked a similar program to shield recently hired black police officers from layoffs. A third blocked a city from opening opportunities for minority-owned construction companies by striking down its program to channel 30 percent of public works funds to them.

Voting rights. Making it harder for black and Hispanic candidates to overcome white racial-bloc voting, the judge has repeatedly struck down majority-black and majority-Hispanic voting districts because of their supposedly irregular shape. But the judge saw no problem with the gerrymandering of bizarrely shaped districts by Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature to rig elections against Democrats!

Civil rights and women's rights. Decision after decision has made it harder for victims of racial and gender discrimination to vindicate their rights. One used a narrow reading of Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination by federally funded schools and colleges, to block victims from suing unless the federal money went to the particular discriminatory program. A second blocked victims of racial and other discrimination from suing federally funded programs and institutions unless they can prove intent to discriminate -- often an impossible burden. A third barred victims of rape and domestic violence from suing under the federal Violence Against Women Act.

Gay rights. One decision allowed states to prosecute and brand gay people as criminals for enjoying sexual relations, even in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Another supported a homophobic group's discriminatory exclusion of gay boys and men, citing the group's "freedom of association."

Religion. The judge has often breached the wall of separation between church and state. Decisions boosting governmental subsidies for Catholic and other religious schools include one that supported "voucher" programs condemned by teachers groups and another that approved a state tax deduction for tuition paid to religious schools. Other decisions have forced public schools to open their doors to evangelical Bible clubs; forced a state university to subsidize a Christian student magazine; allowed a state legislature to pay a chaplain to open each day's session with a prayer; and supported official displays of explicitly Christian symbols, including a tax-funded Christian nativity scene as part of a city's holiday display.

States' rights -- and guns. One decision crippled enforcement of the Brady gun control law by striking down its requirement that local law enforcement officials perform background checks on handgun purchasers. A second struck down a federal law that sought to protect children by barring possession of guns in or near schools. A third immunized states from suits under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, leaving 4.7 million state employees with no remedy.

Death penalty. The judge has been relentless in pushing death-row inmates toward execution chambers -- even in the face of eye-catching evidence of possible innocence and systematic racial discrimination. One decision expedited the execution of a coal miner -- whose guilt is doubted by experts -- because his lawyer had missed a state court filing deadline by one day. Two dissents supported executions of 16-year-olds and of defendants so insane that they have no idea what they did.

Civil liberties. One decision gave a virtual blank check for government investigators to conduct aerial surveillance of citizens -- even by hovering over the fenced yards of private homes. A second upheld the forfeiture of a woman's car because her faithless husband had been parked in it while receiving oral sex from a prostitute. Two more gave presidents absolute immunity and attorneys general almost absolute immunity from lawsuits for their official acts, including the Nixon administration's illegal wiretapping of political opponents. And the judge approved a police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed, 15-year-old black youth, in the back, because he was suspected of fleeing the scene of a minor burglary.

Choice. The judge has called abortion "morally repugnant"; declared Roe v. Wade to be "on a collision course with itself"; claimed that governments have "compelling interests in the protection of potential human life ... throughout pregnancy"; and forced terrified minors to notify often-abusive parents (or beg judges for permission) before they can obtain abortions.

Environment. Among other anti-environment decisions, the judge overturned a long-established Clean Water Act regulation that had protected ponds and many wetlands from dredging and filling by profiteering developers.

Big business. One decision supported Big Tobacco's position that it could not be regulated in any way by the federal Food and Drug Administration -- not even to prevent use of TV ads to hook children and teenagers on cigarettes. A second overturned a jury's $145 million award of punitive damages against a big insurance company that had refused in bad faith to settle a valid car-crash claim and thereby exposed a policyholder to personal liability.

No wonder liberals and moderates begged Sandra Day O'Connor to forego her retirement and stay on the bench. Trouble is, as Taylor points out, the decisions and votes listed above are not Samuel Alito's. They're Sandra Day O'Connor's.

Read the whole piece for Taylor's explanation.

The Best 100 lists the 100 best places to live in the United States. You can do a search at the site for your town or city to see where it ranks. I was surprised to note that our humble little hamlet ranks 95th in the nation. If that's true then a lot of Americans must be living in pretty grim surroundings.

Interview With P.Z. Myers

The Daily Kos recently interviewed biologist and blogger P.Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota. Myers, who has a reputation as an acidulous, no-holds-barred polemicist, says this:

Religion is a clumsy farrago of myths and wishful thinking and old traditions which is irrelevant to our understanding of reality, and in fact often impedes our understanding. We lose nothing if it goes away. As people recognize its lack of utility, something that often (but not necessarily) happens as we learn more about science, it fades away. It's like Santa Claus -- as we learned more about how the real world works and how our parents fulfill all the roles of the fat old myth, we don't mind seeing it go away.

I don't need to preach atheism -- all I need to do is point out the palpable structure of reality in the growing detail science provides for us, and those who are awake and aware will notice the disparity between the world around them and the clumsy, sterile, ludicrous fantasies of religion, and they'll eventually abandon faith.

What professor Myers in his naivete overlooks is that man can't live without faith in something. If traditional Christianity is relegated to anthropological museums something else will surely take its place. Over the last two centuries, in the West, the substitute has been naturalistic humanism. The Bolsheviks, for example, sought to eradicate Christianity from the Soviet Union and replace it with the atheistic religion of communism, a form of humanism. People like Myers wish to eliminate Christianity and replace it with scientistic humanism, or something similar.

Unfortunately, for the secularists, naturalistic religions are not adequate to the task of investing man with meaning and purpose. Unless there is a serious hope for an afterlife this life is utterly pointless. Death annihilates everything, including meaningfulness and the recognition of the abject futility of life leads men to despair and nihilism.

Moreover, unless there is a transcendent moral authority, a moral lawgiver superior to man, there is no basis whatsoever for believing that anyone ought to behave in one way rather than another. There is no right or wrong behavior, only behaviors that people prefer to others. Man can't live that way and retain his freedom. The belief that there is no basis for morality leads directly to the view that might makes right and that leads to political oppression and tyranny.

Furthermore, if we are simply a temporary collection of molecules there's no reason to think that any of us have any dignity or worth beyond what we choose to assign to ourselves and to each other. If, as professor Myers believes, we're simply flesh and bone machines, then wherein lies our dignity? And if we have no dignity as human beings then what is the basis for our human rights? Such rights are simply fictions with which we comfort ourselves but which have no objective existence.

The interviewer asked Dr. Myers what is wrong with the idea of Irreducible Complexity. He replied:

[IC uses] the same logic that would say it is impossible to build an arch, because removing one piece would cause the whole thing to tumble down. Yet arches are built every day -- bridges must be miracles! The answer, of course, is that arches are supported by a scaffold during their assembly, and similarly, "irreducibly complex" pathways were supported by duplications and redundancy during their evolution.

Poor Dr. Myers. So blinded is he by his certainty that he just couldn't be wrong about his atheism that he fails to see that his very example actually supports the conclusions of IC theorists like Michael Behe. It is true that stone arches are built all the time, or at least they were in an earlier era, and it's true that the builder employs a scaffolding to erect the structure, but the point that Myers elides is that it takes an intelligent engineer to contrive this process and to carry it out. Stone arches don't assemble themselves, nor is the scaffolding which allows for their construction assembled through purely natural processes. A bridge that was built up from the cementing together of stones without any input from an intelligent architect, as Dr. Myers says, would indeed be a miracle.