Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The UC Case: Creationists Lose Again

The Courts have ruled in the Creationist case against the University of California, and once again the creationists lose. This time it is a partial summary judgement. The lawsuit was brought by an association of Christian schools who contended that UC unfairly discriminated in rejecting certain courses in those Christian schools as worthy of UC's admissions standards. For a good discussion, see Mike Dunford's 3-part effort. For my contribution, I'm going to focus on some gems from the 51-page ruling that show just how reality-averse the creationists are. At every turn they seem not to understand what evidence is, or what the difference is between facts and speculation.

Before I do that however, it is worth noting that, like Dover, the creationists couldn't have done better in their draw of judges. Judge James Otero is another conservative George W. Bush nominee. So these comments come from a judge that ostensibly was on their side:

"The evidence establishes that Defendants [The Univ of Cal.] do not have a policy of rejecting courses solely because the courses add a religious viewpoint. Plaintiffs [the Christian schools] provide no evidence of an actual policy. Instead, Plaintiffs rely on the existence of course rejections and abstract hypothetical situations..."

Sound familiar? Their legal reasoning mirrors their scientific reasoning exactly: Gather up some anecdotes, hypothesize the solution you want, and stop there. Oh, and accuse anyone who demands evidence of being biased. I'll give them one thing, they are nothing if not consistent.

Plaintiffs must show more than the 'mere existence of a scintilla of evidence...; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find' for the Plaintiffs...'[Plaintiffs] must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'

This is that maddening burden-of-proof shifting they are always doing. No matter what the facts, in the end it is always the IDers claiming the tiniest scrap of doubt of evolution as victory, while demanding infinitely more evidence from their opposition. They always think they should win by default, so in positions like this one where the burden of proof is on them, they flail madly.

Plaintiffs argue that Forbes, American Library, and Finley 'do not apply to [UC] admissions decisions and do not apply to [UC's] rejections of private school courses,' yet provide no principled reason to depart from the reasoning of these two cases.

How would you like to be a recent graduate on his first case and have your work described as providing no principled arguments? You can hear the judges irritation rise as you read this ruling. The creationists strategy in these trials seems to be to throw as much shit against the wall as they can in the hopes that something will stick, and then scream conspiracy if nothing does, citing their massive pile of shoddy evidence as proof. If there is one thing creationists are also consistent about, it is disregard for quality of evidence.

Plaintiffs futilely attempt to distinguish Forbes by incorrectly characterizing the decision as one involving "a public school prescribing its curriculum." Forbes did not involve a public school; it involved a public television station.

Speaking of amateur hour, here are the creationist lawyers mistaking an analogy of a precedential case (a public school) as what the case was actually about (a public TV station).

It goes on and on like that, for 51 pages. Here are some tidbits from the rest of the judge's ruling:

"provides no evidence"
"conclusion with no factual basis"
"false assertion"
"of little value without concrete factual support"
"rely heavily on the erroneous assumption"
"provided little evidence"
"Plaintiff's argument is misplaced"
"Plaintiffs provide no test at all in their opening brief"
"Plaintiffs make no attempt to analyze these allegedly hostile actions under Lemon"
"Some of the Plaintiff's allegations can be discarded immediately as unworthy of summary judgement"
"plaintiffs provided no evidence"
"Plaintiff's evidence was less than compelling"

and my personal favorite:

"UC is under no duty to employ only those individuals whose religious beliefs coincide with the Plaintiffs"

This has got to be a devastating loss to the creationists, perhaps even more so than Dover was. Another Bush appointee not only ruled against them, but in a style that would make me want to change professions were I among the losing attorneys. The legal space for Intelligent Design to sneak through keeps getting smaller.

This case could hold the key. The university system can stop a lot of this madness simply by refusing to grant credit for creationist courses, whatever their name might be. After all, we can't be at every school board at once. Let's just hope the creationists keep bringing cases as poor as this to court.


Reed said...

This one, regarding allegation that reviewers made disparaging remarks about BJU texts, made me giggle:
"There is no indication that it is the official position of UC to laugh at creationist statements..."

Imagine what it would mean if he ruled for the creos in this: to claim discrimination, all you would have to do is make your text book so ridiculous that the reviewers couldn't keep a straight face.

Anonymous said...

You're right about the judge's exasperation! He must have been getting seriously annoyed at the unprofessional and incompetent approach of the kreationist kooks.

I was intrigued by the use of hypothetical situations by the plaintiffs (the baddies) - do US courts deal with hypotheticals? I thought they would kick them out in favour of judging on facts (and facts will never favor the kreationists!).

It's only in (skim) reading the judgement that one can properly appreciate the scatter gun approach of the plaintiffs, trying anything, however irrelevant or untruthful, to get a small victory on any issue. And they failed every time. They lied, they got called for their lying.

Interrobang said...

Throwing massive amounts of shit against the wall in the hopes that some of it will stick has been Creationist Argumentation Tactic #1 practically forever. Eugenie Scott even coined a name for it, based on the person who made it common practice, the "Gish Gallop," after notorious cre(a)ti(o)nist kook Duane Gish.

ScienceAvenger said...

At least Gish was smart enough to only use it in live debates where he could confuse his opponent and entertain his ignorant audience. Trying such a stunt in writing with a judge is the height of hubris. Even Gish is smarter than that.

Interrobang said...

Even Gish is smarter than that.

Yeah, although not all of even the professional creationists are that smart. While I agree the tactic is primarily for live debates, it does turn up in print from time to time, even by the pros. One of Gish's apparent proteges, a guy named Gary Parker, used it in letters to the editor in the San Diego Evening Tribune back in 1981, arguing against a scientist named George Oleshevsky. (The complete series of letters is reprinted in Harlan Ellison's lengthy takedown of creationist argumentation in An Edge in My Voice, for what it's worth.)

These clumsy amateurs one sees on the internet use it quite frequently, where it can be fisked to death if desired...