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Intelligent Design (ID)

The defeat of ID in the first major U.S. court
case concerning the teaching of ID in public schools

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Sponsored link:

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School board mandate:

In 2004-OCT, The Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania voted to require that teachers in ninth-grade biology class read the following statement to their students before discussing the theory of evolution:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part."

"Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations."

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, 'Of Pandas and People,' 1 is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves."

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments." 2

Three board members resigned after the vote was taken. The science teachers refused to read the statement to their students.

This statement shows a profound lack of knowledge of science in general and the theory of evolution in particular.

bullet The modern-day theory of evolution is not Darwin's theory. It is an immense field of study that has developed from Darwin's initial suggestion that the principle of natural selection was and is the blind, unguided mechanism that has produced new species, and is still active today. The theory of evolution has gone well beyond Darwin's initial speculations. For example, Darwin believed that evolution of species was a gradual, relatively uniform process. He said that if large numbers of transition fossils were not found which showed a gradual step by step evolution from one species to another, that his theory would be proven false. Since then, the concept of punctuated equilibrium has been developed and gained support from most biological scientists. It predicts missing intermediary links in the fossil record -- a phenomenon which has been widely observed.
bullet Many biological and geological scientists do regard evolution to be an established fact, as more than a theory.
bullet There are always gaps in theories that have yet to be filled. Otherwise scientific research would come crashing to a halt.
bullet The statement is incorrect when it states that both ID and Darwin's views are attempts to explain the origin of life. Both only try to explain origin of the species. The origins of life lie outside the range of the theory of evolution and of ID. Evolution only deals with how the first cells -- however they came to exist -- developed into the great diversity of plant and animal life on the world today. The modern science of abiogenesis deals with how chemical compounds formed the first primitive life forms. Evolution only begins where abiogenesis leaves off.
bullet Highlighting ID and the theory of evolution as competing theories tells only part of the story. There are literally hundreds of competing beliefs about the origins of the species that are being promoted by religions around the world. The main question here is which of the hundreds of competing beliefs, if any, are scientific in nature.

The book, "Pandas and People" received an unusually large number of reviews -- 62 as of 2005-NOV-12 -- on the web site. However, it also received the lowest average rating of any book that we have ever seen: 2.5 stars out of 5. Reviews of the book were given titles such as:

bullet "Poor, incomprehensible science lives on."
bullet "Where's the Science in this Book?"
bullet "The world is flat! just look around you!"
bullet "Atrocious and intellectually dishonest."

The book does have a lovely cover, if you like Pandas.

However, it should be known that some of the reviewers admit that they have never read the book! 1

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The lawsuit:

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not teach any of the biblical accounts of creation in science class because to do so would violate the principle of separation of church and state. A surprising number of information sources misinterpret this ruling by stating that it does not allow creationism to be taught at all in public schools. The court ruling actually only relates to science classes. Any of many hundreds of religious creation stories can be taught in public school comparative religion classes. Some might argue that because such a large percentage of Americans believe in creationism that adequately educated students need to learn of some of the hundreds of creationism beliefs taught by religions worldwide.

The Supreme Court decision left three obvious paths by which conservative Protestants could promote creationism in public schools:

bullet Campaign for various forms of creationism (ID, new-earth creationism, old-earth creationism, unique creation stories from hundreds of religions, etc) to be taught in comparative religion courses. However, in order for it to be taught there, a broad range of secular and religious viewpoints -- including some that are non-Judeo-Christian -- would have to be taught. It is unlikely that many creationists would agree with this approach, since most of them want to promote only the Genesis creation stories to the exclusion of all others.
bullet Increase the number of conservative strict constructionist justices on the U.S. Supreme Court and initiate a new court case in an attempt to overturn the 1987 ruling. A major step in this direction will probably happen early in 2006 if, as expected, Judge Alito is confirmed as a justice of the Court.
bullet Promote a second concept to be taught in science class in opposition to the theory of evolution that some people argue is scientifically -- not religiously -- based. Ideally, this would be a belief system, like ID, that allowed for creation by God as one option. This is what was attempted in Dover, PA.

Alex Johnson of MSNBC wrote:

"While judges have considered smaller questions barnacled to the issue, the trial that opens Monday is believed to be the first time a federal court has been asked to decide the fundamental question: 'Is intelligent design religion or science'? "

Eleven parents, with the backing of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. and the National Center for Science Education  challenged this mandate in court. The school board was defended at no charge by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education said:

"This will be the first legal challenge to intelligent design, and we’ll see whether they have been able to mask the creationist underpinnings and basic orientation of intelligent design. [Regardless who wins] it will have quite a significant impact on what happens in American public school education."

Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science and publisher of the journal Science said:

"Intelligent design is simply the most recent version of creationism, which is admittedly a religious concept. There is no scientific basis to intelligent design."

Whether ID has any validity is immaterial to the lawsuit. What is important is whether ID is basically a religious or a scientific concept.

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The court case:

The case was heard, before U.S. District Judge John Johns III, starting on 2005-SEP-26 in Harrisburg, PA. Judge Nomes was appointed by President Bush in 2002, and is a churchgoing life-long, Republican.

On OCT-28, Heather Geesey, a Dover Area School Board member who voted to include the statement about ID in area schools, testified that she had never investigated ID for herself. She accepted the opinions of two fellow board members who were on the board's curriculum committee that ID is a scientific theory. She said: "They said it was a scientific thing. She felt that "it wasn't my job" to evaluate ID for herself because she did not serve on the committee. During cross-examination, lawyer Witold Walczak, an ACLU lawyer who represented the eight families who launched the lawsuit, noted that "The only people in the school district with a scientific background were opposed to intelligent design ... and you ignored them?" She answered "Yes." 3

The case was concluded on 2005-NOV-04.

Scott Minnich, a microbiology professor at the University of Idaho testified that ID is not discussed in the major peer-reviewed journals because it is a minority view. He said: "To endorse intelligent design comes with risk because it’s a position against the consensus. Science is not a democratic process."

During closing arguments:


Eric Rothschild, a lawyer for the families, said that: "Intelligent design became the label for the board’s desire to teach creationism."


Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the Dover Area School Board, argued that the concept of ID was intended to call attention to "a new, fledgling science movement." 4

A ruling was expected by the end of 2006-JAN. Some observers speculated that it would be appealed through various levels of courts until the case is decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Voter response:

In the 2005-NOV-8 elections, the voters in the Dover, PA area voted to reject for re-election all eight Republican school board members who had voted for the teaching of ID in area public schools. They were replaced by Democrats. The new board members were be sworn in on 2005-DEC-05.

David Napierskie, one of the Republicans who lost, said the vote wasn't just about ideology. He commented: "Some people felt intelligent design shouldn't be taught and others were concerned about having tax money spent on the lawsuit." 5

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A comment by Pat Robertson:

On 2005-NOV-10, Pat Robinson, host of the Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club" said to the voters of the Dover area that: "you just voted God out of your city,,,,I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city." Later, he said that he was simply trying to point out that:

"Our spiritual actions have consequences....God is tolerant and loving, but we can't keep sticking our finger in His eye forever. If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin, maybe he can help them." 6

In his 2005-NOV-16 Q&A on Pat Robertson, Bishop John Shelby Spong commented:

I want to make only two points about this issue. First, I wonder who, other than Pat himself, designated Pat Robertson to be God's spokesperson? How dare Pat assume that the God revealed in the Jesus I serve is filled with all of Pat's peculiar prejudices....Pat needs to understand that he is acting out the very meaning of idolatry. He has confused God with himself.

Second, some one needs to inform Pat Robertson that the idea of God sitting on a throne above the clouds manipulating the weather in order to punish sinners is so primitive and so naïve that it is staggering to the educated imagination....Indeed why would anyone be drawn to the demonic deity who emerges in Pat's thinking and teaching? It is surely not a God of Love who punishes New Orleans' poorest citizens with a hurricane that New Orleans' wealthiest citizens could and did manage to escape at least with their lives, because they had cars....I, as a Christian, am embarrassed by the public face that Pat Robertson puts on the religious tradition to which my life is dedicated. 7

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Federal judge rules against ID:

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III delivered an unusually broad ruling that Intelligent Design was simply another form of creationism. In a 139 page ruling on 2005-DEC-20, he ruled that teaching ID in the Dover Area School Board's high school biology classes is a violation of the principle of separation of church and state. The decision only applies to the state of Pennsylvania. However, it is expected to have a major effect on those school boards which do not have unlimited funds to fight legal battles.

Some excerpts from his ruling are:

"We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.....To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions...."

"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on intelligent design, who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy...."

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy."

"[There is] overwhelming evidence [that ID] is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

Judge Jones said that although ID arguments: "...may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science....[Such theorizing] violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation ...[relying on] flawed and illogical [arguments against evolution that have been] "refuted by the scientific community."

Jones wrote that the supporters of ID: "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors." He did not believe that the concept should not be studied and discussed in public schools. However, he concluded "...that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom." Presumably, it could legally be taught along with regular creationism in a comparative religion class.

Fortunately for Dover, the plaintiffs asked to be awarded only nominal damages. However, the school district will still have to pay over one million dollars in legal fees. 8,9,10,11 The board said that it will probably not appeal the ruling. All of those on the board who supported ID had been replaced in November by members opposed to the teaching of ID.

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Positive reactions to the court decision (with comments):

bullet Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "Children in public schools deserve top quality science education and freedom from religious indoctrination and today they were granted both." He also said that the decision is: "a significant blow to religious right-led efforts to sneak fundamentalist dogma into public schools under the guise of science." 11 [Webmaster's note: It may not be accurate to define ID as "fundamentalist dogma." Many promoters of ID teach that the world is about 4.5 billion years old. This would make ID unacceptable to many Fundamentalist Christians who believe in a "new" Earth that is less than 10,000 years of age. Also, support for ID is found not only in Fundamentalist believers but in other Evangelicals as well.]
bullet Richard Thompson is a spokesperson for the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian legal advocacy organization who helped the school district. Thomson described Jones' verdict as "troubling decision....The founders of this country would be astonished at the thought that this simple curriculum change established religion in violation of the Constitution that they drafted." 9 [Webmaster's note: Thomson is probably correct. The literal wording of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution appears to only apply to the establishment of an official religion in the U.S., like the Anglican Church in the UK. It was only centuries later that the U.S. Supreme Court widened their interpretation of the Amendment to include a barrier between church and state.]
bullet Plaintiff Christy Rehm said that the was "ecstatic" about the judge's decision. She said: "This is a victory for education, a victory for science and a victory for science education." 11

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Negative reactions to the court decision (with comments):

bullet Michael Barrick of The Barrick Report wrote:

On December 20, a federal judge said that school districts can not teach Intelligent Design because it is really a religion, rather than science. Of course, he failed to acknowledge that evolutionists are as strident in their religious belief (look up the definition of religion in any dictionary to see that Darwinists are as dogmatic as any denomination – Christian or otherwise).....

Most educators – at least this one – would agree that the first aim of education is to identify truths and develop ways to teach them clearly and appropriately, as espoused by educators since Plato. The second is to create a life-long student constantly curious about their purpose for existence, curious about the physical world, and the importance of positive, loving human relationships. So, challenging students to consider competing views of our origins is not inconsistent with centuries of educational philosophy. 12 [Webmaster's note: In his first sentence he seems to make the same error as so many media outlets have done. The judge did not ban ID in the public school; he only banned it in science classes. ID can still be taught as part of a comparative religion course, alongside other Judeo-Christian creationist beliefs, the Theory of Evolution, and some of the creation myths of non-Judeo-Christian religions.]

bullet We will add additional reactions from religious conservatives when they become available.

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The aftermath:

On 2006-FEB-21, the Dover Area school board voted 8 to 0 with one abstention to pay $1 million in legal fees to the attorneys who successfully sued them over its ID policy. The school will also pay each of the eleven plaintiffs $1.00, and has agreed to not appeal the decision. The board hopes to raise the money without increasing area taxes.

Outside of the meeting, plaintiff Joel Leib said: "The old board got off scot free. I wish I could have a job where I make bad decisions, break the law and not pay for it."

One of the plaintiffs, Beth Eveland, expressed concern that the taxpayers and children were left with the bill. She  believes that the members of the previous board who authorized the teaching of ID should be individually held accountable. She said that the smallest amount of accountability is an apology. She commented: "It's the end of the legal drama, but there is no closure." It appears that no apology will be forthcoming from the previous board:

bullet Heather Geesey, the only member to win reelection said: "I don't think I have anything to apologize for."
bullet Ronald Short said: "I don't have anything to apologize for. I believe in what the board did before."

Eric Rothschild, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said:

"We think it's important that the public record will reflect how much it costs to stop an unconstitutional action....The threat of a lawsuit is real when the Constitution is violated. It's important to recognize here with this case, the substantial expense to bring and win this lawsuit." 13

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Percival Davis, Den Kenyon, "Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins," Foundation for Thought & Ethics; 2nd edition, (1993). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Alex Johnson, " 'Intelligent design' faces first big court test. Parents sue after alternative to evolution added to science curriculum," MSNBC. 2005-SEP-23, at:
  3. "Dover official didn't look into intelligent design. School board member says she relied on others to make her decision," Associated Press, 2005-OCT-28, at:
  4. " 'Intelligent design' trial concludes. Federal judge expects to rule no later than early January," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-04, at:
  5. "Pennsylvania voters oust school board that backed intelligent design," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-09?, at:
  6. "Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warns rural town of disaster following vote," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-10, at:
  7. "Bishop Spong Q&A on Pat Robertson," Weekly newsletter for 2005-NOV-16. Signup at:
  8. Martha Raffaele, "Judge Rules Against 'Intelligent Design'," Associated Press, 2005-DEC-20, at:
  9. Delia Gallagher and Phil Hirschkorn, "Judge rules against 'intelligent design' in science class," CNN, 2005-DEC-20, at:
  10. The text of Judge Jones' decision is online at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  11. "U.S. judge rejects intelligent design; Can't be taught as option to evolution; flouts ban on religion in public schools," Reuters/Associated Press, 2005-DEC-20.
  12. Michael Barrick, "Intelligent Design proponents need to quit being coy and acknowledge the truth of Genesis," The Barrick Report, 2005-DEC-21, at:
  13. Lauri Lebo & Michelle Starr, "Dover ID bill: $1M," Daily Record/Sunday News, York, PA, 2006-FEB-22, at:

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How you got here:

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Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-NOV-11
Latest update: 2006-APR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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