The Trial of Kitzmiller v. Dover

November 23, 2005

"Intelligent Design" is a religious view, not a scientific theory, according to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in his historic decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

 

The decision is a victory not only for the ACLU, who led the legal challenge, but for all who believe it is in appropriate, and unconstitutional, to advance a particular religious belief at the expense of our children's education.

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The lawsuit was brought by the parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP, who objected to the decision by the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, to promote the teaching of intelligent design in their children's public school science classes.

The parents had precedent on their side.

In McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Edwards v. Aguillard, a federal judge ruled that creation science did not qualify as a scientific theory, striking down Arkansas' law requiring equal time for creation science and evolution. In Edwards v. Aguillard, the Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring that creation science be taught with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.

Throughout the trial, witnesses both for the plaintiffs and the defendants demonstrated how creationism evolved into intelligent design. Witness testimony showed that it was precisely because of its controversial religious message that the School Board adopted intelligent design and not because of any scientific evidence to support it.

Even defense witness, assistant superintendant Mike Baska admitted that School Board member Bill Buckingham discussed creationism at board meetings when discussing the biology curriculum. This came after a year of denying that they were attempting to promote their religious beliefs in the curriculum.

 

Plaintiff attorney Eric Rothschild, of Pepper Hamilton, honed in on such deliberately false statements during his closing argument:

"What I am about to say is not easy to say, and there is no way to say it subtly. Many of the witnesses for the defendants did not tell the truth. They did not tell the truth at their depositions, and they have not told the truth in this courtroom," Rothschild said. "The court should infer from their false statements that defendants are trying to conceal an improper purpose for the policy they approved and implemented, namely an explicitly religious purpose."

 

Another example of intelligent design proponents attempting to advance their particular religious beliefs is made very clear in the infamous wedge document produced by the Discovery Institute, the organization at the forefront of the intelligent design movement.

The strategy describes how to promote their personal religious beliefs by denigrating science and promoting supernatural intelligent design as a competing theory. School board members Buckingham and Alan Bonsell consulted the Discovery Institute before voting to change the biology curriculum.

 

They also consulted the Thomas More Law Center, the organization representing the defendants at no charge. According to the New York Times, a lawyer from the group visited school boards around the country in an attempt to promote their beliefs even when it would mean that taxpayers would need to subsidize a risky, high-profile trial.

"Creationism means rejection of evolutionary theory in favor of special creation by a supernatural deity. It also involves a rejection of the established methodologies of science, and this is all for religious reason."
—Barbara Forrest, an expert on intelligent design.

Even though the Catholic Church fully accepts the teaching of modern science, the Thomas More Law Center describes itself as a Catholic organization that will act as the sword and shield for people of faith without candidly acknowledging that they are promoting the teaching of their religious beliefs in public schools at the expense of other people's religious beliefs.

 

Despite their involvement with these organizations, school board members still maintained that intelligent design was not a religious opinion. Barbara Forrest, Ph.D., an expert on intelligent design and co-author of Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, undermined such claims.

 

Forrest traced the development of Of Pandas and People, an intelligent design-focused textbook that is at the center of the Kitzmiller case. She demonstrated that after the Edwards Supreme Court decision, the publishers substituted the phrase "intelligent design" almost every place that "creationism" had appeared.

 

Creationism means a number of things, Forrest testified. First and foremost it means rejection of evolutionary theory in favor of special creation by a supernatural deity. It also involves a rejection of the established methodologies of science, and this is all for religious reason.

 

Expert plaintiff witness John Haught, a Catholic theologian at Georgetown University, reinforced the religious nature of intelligent design. "In my view, the way in which intelligent design is used in the discourse that's in dispute, it does entail an essentially biblical and specifically Christian view of the world," and it is a version of Christianity that he himself does not share.

"The way in which intelligent design is used in the discourse that's in dispute, it does entail an essentially biblical and specifically Christian view of the world."
—John Haught, a Catholic theologian at Georgetown University.

Plaintiffs testified that they witnessed such religious motivations by the Dover Area School Board. Beth Eveland, one of the plaintiffs said, "I remember Bill Buckingham saying, '2,000 years ago someone died on a cross. Isn't someone going to take a stand for him?'"

 

Ignoring such statements, the defense asserted that intelligent design is rooted in science, frequently citing Dr. Michael Behe's work. In what often sounded like an advanced biology course, expert witness Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, said that, "Intelligent design is not a testable theory and as such is not generally accepted by the scientific community." Defense witness Dr. Scott Minnich conceded as much. When testifying about how it was a risk in his field to come out as an intelligent design proponent, Pepper Hamilton attorney Steve Harvey replied, "That's because the entire scientific community rejects intelligent design, doesn't it?" Minnich answered, "That's correct."

"Intelligent design is not a scientific concept. It's a religious concept. And because I don't subscribe to that particular brand of religion, I feel that I and my daughter, my family, are being ridiculed, and my daughter feels the pressure. I reserve the right to teach my child about religion."
—Christy Rehm, one of the parents who are challenging ID.

Parents echoed this sentiment.

 

Intelligent design is not a scientific concept. It's a religious concept. And because I don't subscribe to that particular brand of religion, I feel that I and my daughter, my family, are being ridiculed, and my daughter feels the pressure. I reserve the right to teach my child about religion, testified plaintiff Christy Rehm. And I have faith in myself and in my husband and in my pastor to do that, not the school system. 

 

In addition, to Forrest, Haught and Miller, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs included Robert T. Pennock, Ph..D., associate professor of science and technology, Michigan State University and associate professor of philosophy, MSU; Brian Alters, Ph.D., associate professor of education, McGill University, Montreal; and Kevin Padian, Ph.D., professor of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley and curator, Museum of Paleontology at UC, Berkeley.

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