In another article about Mitt Romney and theistic evolution, PZ Myers responds to some of the criticisms of his previous article.
PZ does make some good points: Romney’s statement manages not to be anti-science, but isn’t best described as pro-science; people should make sure to register their differences of opinion with their elected representatives or candidates and not give them a pass based on partial agreement with a stated position; and that textbooks written by theists are not necessarily bad science to be the focus of a lawsuit.
But I still think the PZ does not have the legal situation straight.
I predict the next trial will be completely different from the last one, unless it’s another loose-cannon old school creationist trying to sneak Answers in Genesis tracts into biology class. It’s not going to be tried on the basis of separation of church and state unless we want to be doomed: as I pointed out before, there’s more overt religiosity in the theistic evolutionist camp everybody loves so much than there is in this new book, so taking the tack of trying to tar it with that tenuous association with Howard Ahmanson and the same people who published Pandas is going to be futile. The DI’s careful avoidance of words that tripped the trigger of Judge Jones, and our own side’s sloppy endorsement of superstitious rationalizing for godly intervention in evolution, have closed the door on finding relief in the First Amendment.
The IDists are science-ignorant frauds, but they aren’t stupid, usually. The next fight is going to be harder.
The next fight will be harder. But it will still be fought on grounds of separation of church and state, and a failure in that case will not be due to any supposed difficulty in having theistic evolutionists as expert witnesses for the pro-science side.
First, church-state separation is pretty much it so far as grounds to object to the continuing anti-science menace from the Discovery Institute. I’ve already discussed this point. If PZ disagrees, what I would like to find out is what legal grounds he thinks will serve better. In that case, the complaint should be written to cover both church-state separation plus whatever PZ has as an alternative, if he is able to identify an alternative. Complaints can argue for relief on multiple grounds.
Second, applying the church-state separation objection is not a relative matter; it doesn’t matter in the least that a plaintiff is more religious than a defendant. What matters is the action and intent of the defendant in doing whatever it is that they did. Earlier in its history, the Southern Baptist Church was a frequent plaintiff using church-state separation to keep other doctrinal materials out of official government activities and policies, and they were successful in doing so. One of the plaintiffs in the McLean v. Arkansas case was a United Methodist bishop, IIRC, and that did not in any way jeopardize the legal effort there. This objection, that the relative religiosity of plaintiffs and defendant makes a difference, is a complete non-starter.
Third, the clear history of the courts has shown that the testimony of theists objecting to narrow doctrines of other theists being established by government authority has tended to increase the tendency to find a violation of church-state separation, not decrease it. The presence of theists as opposing expert witnesses is highly unlikely to be a bad thing in the context of a lawsuit which is argued, in part or in whole, on church-state separation grounds.
Finally, the DI’s past history is certainly going to be a centerpiece of any case concerning the new product. I don’t see how the issue of their funding and their past means of advocacy will fail to be found relevant to such a case.
As I put it elsewhere recently, what the antievolutionists have to offer is demonstrably a body of erroneous arguments taken from past antievolution sources. They cannot establish a secular purpose for teaching students falsehoods. They can be found to be pursuing religiously-motivated antievolution because that’s what the content of what they offer is comprised of. Church-state separation still applies forcefully to these circumstances. Sure, it will be harder to demonstrate what is going on if there aren’t folks dropping handy lines like, “Evolution is okay to be taught if it is balanced by something else, like creationism”, but it is certainly feasible to build a case even if the DI gets a perfectly implemented version of their game plan. A problem with this would be if, as I describe elsewhere, the courts establish new case law that substantially makes demonstrating a violation of church-state separation harder. That, though, has not happened yet.