Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I, Judicis

Recently, John McAdams at the Marquette Warrior linked to a report that an judge in the Italian town of Viterbo had ordered a priest to prove that Jesus Christ exists or, apparently, be found guilty of "abusing the pubic credulity." I guess this is a crime in Italy. Michael Moore wouldn't last long over there.

Prof. McAdams goes on, quite properly, to point out the absurdity of such a "crime" and the possible consequences in the US of allowing courts to decide who is telling the truth on matters of public controversy.

I couldn't help but think of the recent decision by a district court judge in Pennsylvania holding that it was unconstitutional for the Dover school district to mandate that students be informed of the theory of "intelligent design." ID, most prominently advocated by biochemist Michael Behe and mathematician William Dembski essentially contends that life, even though it has evolved, was "designed" by someting unaccounted for. Random mutation and natual selection, according to ID, are not adequate to account for what is here.

The court, ruling in a case called Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, found that this unconstitutionally "establishes" religion. Given the mess that is the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence, the court could have - and, if it were to rule as it did, should have - based its decision soley on the fact that the school district was religiously motivated in adopting this policy and that, therefore, it "advances" religion. That reasoning has its own set of difficulties, but it would arguably be consistent with what a majority of the Supreme Court wants.

This judge, however, while finding that the Dover school board was "improperly" motivated, went on to decide whether ID was "science" and whether its scientific propositions (sorry but I have no other way to describe a debate over stuff like whether bacterial flagellum and the autoimmune cascade are irreducibly complex) are "true," naively thinking that it would resolve the controversy for all time. I do not know if the court got it right. I do know that it had no business deciding what can and cannot be taught based on its "truth" - no more than a predecessor of our court in Viterbo would have had the right to ban Copernicus from the class room. Yet something about black robes, whether here or in Italy, goes to the head.

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