Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Discovery Institute on Cobb County

The Discovery Institute apparently agrees with the idea that the Cobb County trial, mentioned in the previous post, is going well for the evolution side. DI has posted two articles at their website, available here and here, lamenting what they describe as the lackluster performance of the Cobb County attorney. Here is one of their complaints:

“Either this attorney threw the case on purpose,” says legal analyst Seth Cooper, an expert on the legal aspects of teaching evolution, “or he simply doesn't know what he was doing. This was a textbook case. Literally. And he blew it.”

The defense mounted this week by the Cobb Co. School District’s attorney Linwood Gunn is being criticized for not calling expert witnesses to rebut those of the plaintiff. While the plaintiff's attorneys called multiple witnesses including a scientist, Gunn only called one witness, who was not a scientist.

“On Wednesday, Gunn called the defense's only witness to testify, and even that testimony appears to be unhelpful,” says Cooper. “A strong defense requires a strong factual record for the judge to base his decision on. The defense appears to have dropped the ball in this regard.”

There's only one problem with this. No expert witnesses were called for either side. As explained by Reed Cartwright:

Now Seth Cooper, the DI lawyer who prepared an amicus brief supporting the disclaimer, is upset at the way the lawyer for CCSD is handling the case. Cooper’s main complaint is that the defense never called any expert witnesses to cast doubt on evolution. Apparently Cooper is unaware that no expert witness testimony was presented at the trial. Last Friday the judge used a procedural technicality to disqualify all expert testimony. It is suspected that this was done to streamline the trial. Ken Miller, a well known biologist from Brown University, did not testify as an expert witness, but as coauthor of the most popular biology textbook used in Cobb schools. Carlos Moreno, a pathologist from Emory University, testified as a Cobb resident. Although scientists did testify for the plaintiffs, none did so as an expert.

Just one more example of the Discovery Institute being completely unable to say anything that's true.

Another interesting aspect of this trial is how much it shares with past trials in this area. For example, the issue of whether expert witnesses could testify also came up at the Scopes trial. The issue there revolved around some vagueness in the wording of the Butler Act (the law Scopes was accused of violating). Specifically, it wasn't clear whether the law specifically outlawed teaching evolution (in which case experts would have nothing relevant to say regarding Scopes' guilt) or whether the law made it illegal to teach scientific ideas that contradicted the Bible, with evolution being one example of such a theory (in which case experts could testify as to whether evolution really does contradict the Bible). Anyway, in that case the judge also ruled that expert witnesses were not allowed.

There is also a parallel with the 1982 creationism trial in Arkansas. In that case, the creationist side barely showed up for the trial, and were soundly trounced by the ACLU. Prominent creationist groups of the day were angered by what they perceived as the lackluster performance of the district attorney who was supposed to be representing their interests. The criticisms made then were very similar to the ones quoted above.

Stephen Jay Gould (who testified in the 1982 trial) had a more plausible explanation for why the creationist side comes off looking so bad in the courtroom. He pointed out that creationism survives not because they have any arguments worth taking seriously, but because they put on great theater for people who know little about science. But trials are nontheatrical to the point of being boring. In such an environment, the emptiness of creationism becomes obvious.

In the end what matters is what the judge thinks, so the creationists might yet get the last laugh. But it sounds like so far the ACLU has presented its arguments well.


At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was struck by this phrase from the quoted Discovery Institute document: "... legal analyst Seth Cooper, an expert on the legal aspects of teaching evolution, ...". According to his self-description in an review Cooper is "... mid-twenties, recent law school graduate, ...". How does a recent law school graduate get promoted to expert?



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