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
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
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
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
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
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"
"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"
"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"
"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