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FYI Number 177: December 26, 2005

Judge Concludes Intelligent Design Should Not Be Taught As Science

On December 20, a federal judge ruled unconstitutional an attempt by the Dover Area School Board in Dover, PA to amend the high school biology curriculum to raise doubts about the theory of evolution and offer Intelligent Design as an alternative. The judge further concluded that Intelligent Design "is not science."

"To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and [Article 1, Section 3] of the Pennsylvania Constitution," the judge's decision states, "we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID [Intelligent Design] Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID."

In October 2004, the School Board amended its curriculum with a disclaimer stating that "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." Later that year it issued a statement to be read in ninth-grade biology classes, stating, in part, that "gaps" exist in the theory of evolution "for which there is no evidence," and commending to students an Intelligent Design-related reference book (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/143.html). The statement was read to students by school administrators after the district's biology teachers refused to read it, on the grounds that "INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT BIOLOGY. INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT AN ACCEPTED SCIENTIFIC THEORY," (emphasis in original) and "reading the statement violates our responsibilities as professional educators as set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educator[s]."

In December of 2004, eleven parents of students attending Dover area schools filed a suit against the school district, claiming that ID policy violated the First Amendment Establishment Clause. In his December 20 ruling on the case, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III stated that the disclaimer "singles out the theory of evolution for special treatment, misrepresents its status in the scientific community, causes students to doubt its validity without scientific justification, presents students with a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory, directs them to consult a creationist text as though it were a science resource, and instructs students to forego scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere."

Judge Jones' decision addressed not only the motivation behind the biology curriculum amendment, but the overarching issue of whether Intelligent Design can be considered a scientific alternative to evolution. Based on court testimony and documents from experts on both sides of the issue, he concluded that "ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community."

His decision further states: "[W]e find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.... [I]t is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research."

Additional excerpts from Judge Jones' 139-page decision (available at http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf ) follow:

INTELLIGENT DESIGN AND RELIGION:

"It is notable that not one defense expert was able to explain how the supernatural action suggested by ID could be anything other than an inherently religious proposition" (p. 31).

"[W]hile encouraging students to keep an open mind and explore alternatives to evolution, [the disclaimer] offers no scientific alternative; instead, the only alternative offered is an inherently religious one" (p. 43).

"Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs' scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator" (p. 136).

INTELLIGENT DESIGN IS NOT SCIENCE:

"[W]e find it incumbent upon the Court to further address an additional issue raised by Plaintiffs, which is whether ID is science.... [A]fter a six-week trial that spanned twenty-one days and included countless hours of detailed expert witness presentations, the Court is confident that no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area. Finally, we will offer our conclusion on whether ID is science not just because it is essential to our holding that an Establishment Clause violation has occurred in this case, but also in the hope that it may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial involving the precise question which is before us" (p. 63).

"ID is predicated on supernatural causation.... ID takes a natural phenomenon and, instead of accepting or seeking a natural explanation, argues that the explanation is supernatural.... It is notable that defense experts' own mission, which mirrors that of the [Intelligent Design movement] itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world.... [The lead defense expert] admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology" (p. 66).

"ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in this world. While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory" (p. 82).

INTELLIGENT DESIGN IN SCIENCE CLASSES:

"ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard" (p. 89).

"Remarkably, the 6-3 vote at the October 18, 2004 meeting to approve the curriculum change occurred with absolutely no discussion of the concept of ID, no discussion of how presenting it to students would improve science education, and no justification was offered by any Board member for the curriculum change....Furthermore, Board members somewhat candidly conceded that they lacked sufficient background in science to evaluate ID, and several of them testified with equal frankness that they failed to understand the substance of the curriculum change.... In fact, one unfortunate theme in this case is the striking ignorance concerning the concept of ID amongst Board members. Conspicuously, Board members who voted for the curriculum change testified at trial that they had utterly no grasp of ID" (p. 120).

"Although as noted Defendants have consistently asserted that the ID Policy was enacted for the secular purposes of improving science education and encouraging students to exercise critical thinking skills, the Board took none of the steps that school officials would take if these stated goals had truly been their objective. The Board consulted no scientific materials. The Board contacted no scientists or scientific organizations. The Board failed to consider the views of the District's science teachers.... Moreover, Defendants' asserted secular purpose of improving science education is belied by the fact that most if not all of the Board members who voted in favor of the biology curriculum change conceded that they still do not know, nor have they ever known, precisely what ID is. To assert a secular purpose against this backdrop is ludicrous" (p. 130).

"[W]e do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom" (p. 137).

THE COURT CASE:

"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 ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy" (p. 137).

"The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources" (p. 138).

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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