Intelligent Design (ID)
The defeat of ID in the first major U.S. court
concerning the teaching of ID in public schools
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.
||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.
||Many biological and geological scientists do
regard evolution to be an established fact, as more than a theory.
||There are always gaps in theories that have
yet to be filled. Otherwise scientific research would come crashing to a
||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.
||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 Amazon.com
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:
||"Poor, incomprehensible science lives on."
||"Where's the Science in this Book?"
||"The world is flat! just look around you!"
||"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
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:
||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.
||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.
||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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Positive reactions to the court decision (with
||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.]
||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
||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."
Negative reactions to the court decision (with
||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
||We will add additional reactions from religious conservatives
when they become available.
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:
||Heather Geesey, the only member to win reelection said: "I don't
think I have anything to apologize for."
||Ronald Short said: "I don't have anything to apologize for. I believe
in what the board did before."
|How you got here:
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
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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 Amazon.com
online book store
Alex Johnson, " 'Intelligent design' faces first big court test. Parents
sue after alternative to evolution added to science curriculum," MSNBC.
"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,
" 'Intelligent design' trial concludes. Federal judge expects to rule no
later than early January," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-04, at:
"Pennsylvania voters oust school board that backed intelligent design,"
Associated Press, 2005-NOV-09?, at:
"Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson warns rural town of disaster
following vote," Associated Press, 2005-NOV-10, at:
"Bishop Spong Q&A on Pat Robertson," Weekly newsletter for
2005-NOV-16. Signup at:
Martha Raffaele, "Judge Rules Against 'Intelligent Design',"
Associated Press, 2005-DEC-20, at:
Delia Gallagher and Phil Hirschkorn, "Judge rules against 'intelligent
design' in science class," CNN, 2005-DEC-20, at:
The text of Judge Jones' decision is online at:
http://i.a.cnn.net/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:
"U.S. judge rejects intelligent design; Can't be taught as option to
evolution; flouts ban on religion in public schools," Reuters/Associated
Michael Barrick, "Intelligent Design proponents need to quit being coy
and acknowledge the truth of Genesis," The Barrick Report, 2005-DEC-21, at:
Lauri Lebo & Michelle Starr, "Dover ID bill: $1M," Daily
Record/Sunday News, York, PA, 2006-FEB-22, at:
Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2005-NOV-11
Latest update: 2006-APR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson