Creation science in the courts didn’t end with Scopes
“‘Creation science’ has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false. What could be more destructive of that most fragile yet most precious commodity in our entire intellectual heritage — good teaching — than a bill forcing honorable teachers to sully their sacred trust by granting equal treatment to a doctrine not only known to be false, but calculated to undermine any general understanding of science as an enterprise?”
Stephen Jay Gould — “Verdict on Creationism,” The Skeptical Inquirer, 1988, 12 (2): 186.
According to the Guardian, a California creationist is offering a $10,000 challenge to anyone who can prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.
On the Creation Science Hall of Fame website, Dr Mastropaolo says:
“This is your chance to shine. Are you willing to participate in a contest to prove your point that the Bible is wrong and that we evolved? You could go home with $20,000 if you win!”
Dr Mastropaolo proposes that the case be conducted in the form of a mini-trial, argued by the parties in front of a judge. Unfortunately he gives no trial date or venue, and does not appear to have found a willing party to the dispute on either side.
The bewildering thing about this whole process is that not only is the irrational and improbable attempting to bait common sense into a fake debate, they are using a wildly inappropriate forum to do so.
In the State of California, the mini-trial is seen as a means for the parties to hear the other side’s point of view and attempt a negotiated settlement. According to the California Department of Justice, there are six factors to consider in deciding whether a mini-trial is appropriate:
- Matters of public law, policy and legal precedent
- Control over the dispute resolution process
- Is the dispute substantial?
- Is the issue one of fact?
- Is there a relationship to preserve?
- Are there numerous parties?
Never mind that the actual nature of the dispute is profoundly unclear. Creationism versus science has a long history in the courts dating back to the Scopes Monkey Trial, and has been raised as an issue of public policy in many states since.
Mastropaolo’s “contest” rules state that the “preponderance of evidence prevails”. However the panel or neutral in a mini-trial will consider the facts, the evidence and the law in making a decision. I don’t think there is any rule that says “he with the most documents wins”.
An important difference between a court trial and a minitrial is that the rules of evidence do not apply at the minitrial. Another difference is that minitrials are not recorded, so no transcript can be produced. Finally, the proceedings are totally confidential and any offers or statements made in the process are inadmissible at a court trial. So if Mastropaolo’s intent is to gain publicity, he has really chosen the wrong venue.
The nature of the dispute is entirely unclear. This is not a debate about payment terms, or substantial completion of a building. It is a debate about the literal interpretation of the Bible. Where are the facts?
There is no relationship – Mastropaolo is seeking anonymous third parties to take a punt at a prize, not trying to resolve a legitimate dispute.
The prize is spurious. Mastropaolo offers the $40,000 in escrow to the prevailing party, net of court costs. It is unlikely that there will be much left over.
Dr Mastropaolo is simply wasting the time of an already over-burdened court system with a cheap publicity stunt. I assume most judges have better things to do.