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Dover Trial Begins with Miller Testimony

HARRISBURG, PA -- The ACLU’s lawsuit against a Dover, Pennsylvania school district began today with biologist and evolutionist Kenneth Miller taking the stand as the first witness. The school district’s policy calls for administrators to read a brief statement to biology students indicating that Darwinism is a theory, and that if students want to learn about a contrary explanation for the origin of living things, they can find a supplementary science textbook, Of Pandas and People, in the school library. The plaintiff is arguing that this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of a religion because intelligent design is merely the creationism that was on trial in the Supreme Court decision, Edwards vs. Aguillard (1987), where the court ruled that Louisiana could not mandate equal-time teaching of biblical creationism.

The plaintiff argued that the Dover policy fails both of the first two prongs of the Lemon test: that it has both the primary effect and intent of advancing a particular religious viewpoint.

In friendly questioning from the plaintiff, Brown university cell biologist Kenneth Miller asserted that the theory of intelligent design was “not a testable theory in any sense” and so wasn’t science. Later he examined some of the design arguments from Of Pandas and People—blood clotting, genetic similarities and differences among horse/chicken/turtle/frog/tuna, and the information properties of DNA.

To take the instance of blood clotting, Of Pandas and People argues that the blood clotting cascade (a biochemical process that keeps us from bleeding to death from even small cuts) is irreducibly complex. That is, one needs all of the key parts of the intricate system in place or blood clotting simply doesn’t happen. Therefore, it could not have been produced by Darwninism’s gradual, step-by-functional-step process of genetic variation and natural selection. Intelligent agents, however, can and do produce irreducibly complex systems all the time. Therefore, intelligent design is the preferred explanation for the blood clotting mechanism. Miller argued that science has tested this claim and found it wanting, through research on the blood clotting genetics in whales, dolphins and puffer fish.

Miller said that he had never testified in court about intelligent design, and that his first debate over intelligent design was with biochemist Michael Behe in 1995. Behe was in the court room, and also will testify later.

Miller noted that the term “science” was from a Latin word meaning “knowledge,” and is used more generally to refer to any body of knowledge. But natural science, he argued, gives strictly natural explanations for natural phenomena. He added that scientific explanations are restricted to those explanations that can be inferred from confirmable data.

He acknowledged that scientists think about meaning/purpose, but he said these musings lie outside the purview of science. “Explanations that lie outside of science can still be true,” he said, “They’re just not science.” He said this rule also applies to the atheistic statements of Darwinists like Richard Dawkins, William Provine, and Daniel Dennett.

He also differentiated the scientific use of the term “theory” from its use in casual conversation. Theories are broad, powerful explanations and have to make testable predictions.

Miller also said that peer review was extremely important: “Without it you don’t have science.” As the co-author of a leading college biology textbook, he said of the crowded field of biology textbooks, “It’s a free market, a competitive market.”

He added that publishing biology textbooks doesn’t help you get tenure. All that matters is getting scientific papers published and “getting the respect from one’s colleagues in the field.” He said he resisted getting involved in textbook writing at first, but when saw a draft of a textbook he was asked to help write, he said he found the writing boring, in part because it gave “the impression that everything had already been discovered.”

I’ll provide analysis of the rest of his testimony later this evening.