If only we had some sort of way to detect design. It would be so handy.
The DI complaints blog is up in arms over a claim of plagiarism against Judge Jones. Not for his use of proposed findings of fact and law in his ruling in the Dover trial, but over this passage from his Dickinson College Commencement Address:
As has been often written, our Founding Fathers were children of The Enlightenment. So influenced, they possessed a great confidence in an individual’s ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason. And that reason was best developed, they clearly believed, by a broad based liberal arts education that caused its recipients to engage the world by constantly questioning and persuading others.
Ironically, but perhaps fittingly for my purposes today, we see the Founders’ ideals quite clearly, among many places, in the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This of course was the clause that I determined the school board had violated in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. While legal scholars will continue to debate the appropriate application of that clause to particular facts in individual cases, this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.
The bolded text, you see, is roughly the same as a single passage from The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America by Frank Lambert.
A couple of things to notice. On their own, each bolded passage is an utterly unremarkable statement about the Founders. Were they strung together exactly the way that Lambert does it, that would be quite the difference. How are we to determine whether Jones was quoting or merely making fairly obvious statements, perhaps based on a vague memory of a book he undoubtedly read?
Second, he prefaces that passage in his speech by saying “As has been said.” In doing so, he avoids one part of the damage that can be done by plagiarism: taking another’s ideas as one’s own. He does not seem to cite his source, and if he were intentionally quoting, that would be a good thing.
Given that none of the phrases at issue are so unique that the couldn’t have been written independently, we have to consider the possibility that Jones either no longer recalled which book he was remembering, or that he came up with the phrases at issue by coincidence. The only way the DI is able to get any mileage out of this at all is that they remove most of the text that I didn’t put in bold. Strip out the context and it looks damning. Leave the context, and the DI just looks foolish.
Now, if they could just do some sort of math to demonstrate that the passages at issue were designed, we’d be in a whole new ballgame.