Dover: ID is out!

By Carl Zimmer | December 20, 2005 10:53 am

Judge Rules Against ‘Intelligent Design’

Initial reaction: what a relief. Once I have a chance to read the decision, I’ll have something vaguely more insightful to say…

Update: Oy. The decision turns out to be 139 pages. PDF here.

Update, 11:30 am: Okay, I’ve had a chance to give it a quick read, and while I’m not a lawyer, it seems to me like a pretty overwhelming decision. It didn’t just focus on the school board’s activities but demolished the entire project of intelligent design. For a legal document, it had some quite stirring passages, which I’ve excerpted here:

p 24: we conclude that the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child.

p29 ID aspires to change the ground rules of science to make room for religion, specifically, beliefs consonant with a particular version of Christianity.

p31 The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.

p64 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.

p71 ID is at bottom premised upon a false dichotomy, namely, that to the extent evolutionary theory is discredited, ID is confirmed.

[Conclusion] p137 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.

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.

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.

With that said, we 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.

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.

UPDATE: WEDNESDAY 12/21 9:30 AM I’ve cobbled together a few slightly more coherent thoughts on the Dover decision.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution

Comments (17)

  1. did

    Highlight: Judge Jones referred to the Dover board’s actions as being of “breathtaking inanity.”

    did

  2. Zhiyun Chen

    Super !

    I disagree with some commentors in the previous post. I do not believe science is mutually compatible with religious belief. Many Christians in this country, evangelicals in particular, belive in every words in the Bible. They believe God created the world in seven days, not in a metaphorical or poetic way, but literally created the word in seven days. That, and many other accounts in the Bible, or any other religious scriptures, can be readily debunked by science.

    I can understand many scientists’ motivation to reconcile science with religion. Yes science can not yet explain the beginning of the cosmo and the beginning of life; Yes people look for the meaning of life to sustain individuals and societies. Yes, the majority of population in this country is religious one way or the other. But I believe scientists’ role in society, everybody has his own role in society, religious fundamentalists included, is to creat a selective pressure which favors reason, enlightment and intelligence. It is the fight for memes, if we do not promote what we belive, we will lose. Evolution, including evolution of idieas, do not always favor what seem to be reasonable. You have to earn your right to propagate.

    BTW, thank you Carl, for creating this website. I really enjoy every post here.

  3. jim

    lets get back to the science, the more u battle id coffeehouse philosophy chatter, the more u lose, now lets get back to the bipedal ability of that hominid found in Chad…

  4. Nadya

    Hi Carl, howdy from the Turner Lab!

    When I learned about the Dover decision all I felt was relief. I do believe religion serves a purpose to many people in this country, especially christianity, but by no means should it be part of our education system and what’s more, treated as if it is science when it’s simply not. I know Darwinian evolutionary theory can’t answer many questions, but I know first hand, as we all do in our lab, that it works in more than one level and we have TONS of proof for it.

    I know we scientists don’t have the answers to everything, but ask yourself if answering our kids that “A higher being made it that way” is even an answer.

  5. Zhiyun Chen,

    Science really can be mutually compatible with religion. I talk about that a lot at my blog. It’s fundamentalism, the determination to hold a view and never given in, never think about it, that is not compatible with science.

    Even if we’re a minority, there are lots of people that have no problem with science, evolution, and their religious beliefs.

  6. scott

    p. 63-64: “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.”

    Wonderful stuff.

  7. Henry

    One question, something I’ve been wondering about this decision: How does it apply to other cases in other areas? I know there’s lots of big complicated stuff dealing with precedence and prior judge’s decision and suchlike, and how it applies to different places, but I only know that such rules exist, not what they are or how they apply to this decision.

    How wide-reaching will the impact of this decision be? Will it apply to the Kansas IDiocy? Will the case be applicable only to a certain area?

    Thanks to anyone with the legal acumen to satiate my curiousity!

  8. Steviepinhead

    Henry, here’s the deal. Judge Jones’s decision has the force of law–is a directive or mandate as to what it’s lawful to do or not do–only as to the parties involved in this particular lawsuit. Thus, strictly speaking, this decision controls the behavior of only a very limited group of people.

    That’s only the end of the ruling’s explicit legal authority, however; it’s not the end of its persuasive reach.

    Doubtless, the judge’s ruling will serve to give very strong guidance to any similar situation that might develop anywhere in the Middle District of Pennsylavania, even though there are other judges and other school districts in that district.

    (Federal district courts–the kind on which Judge Jones serves–are trial level courts. There is a “layer” of intermediate appellate courts–called circuit courts–above the district or trial court layer and, of course, the SCOTUS–the Supreme Court of the United States–is the ultimate appellate court which reigns above even the circuit courts. The U.S. is divided, for federal judicial purposes, into 13 regional circuit courts of appeal, and each of those is divided into state or substate districts, which are the territories within which the district or trial courts operate.)

    Were the case to be appealed–which, at this point, it appears it will NOT be–then the opinion of the circuit court would set the law for all the districts (covering several mid-Atlantic states) governed by that circuit. And if the case reached the SCOTUS, any resulting opinion would set nationwide constitutional law.

    Again, however, just because the strict legal reach of the case will probably be confined to the immediate parties and the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a thorough, well-written, well-researched, and well-reasoned opinion such as this one–which was based in turn on a set of facts, expert witness testimony, and series of documents that deliberately and thoroughly explored the entire history and theory of ID as an “intellectual” program, and which both sets of parties intentionally approached as a “test case”–will tend to have a persuasive influence far beyond its strictly “legal” confines.

    Any common law court in the world (courts whose underpinninngs run back to the English common law and jurisprudence–the U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia, etc., etc.), whether trial or appellate, may–in the absence of contrary controlling authority–look to any other well-reasoned decision of any other common law court in the world that has previously dealt with the same or substantially similar facts and law. Any such other court may discuss and cite (rely upon the reasoning of; find support in) an opinion such as Judge Jones’s. Any other court in such a situation might, therefore, very well choose to reach the same results as Judge Jones did, unless the other court could find some significant difference between the facts and law before it, or unless the later judge could find some strong logical basis for disagreeing with Judge Jones.

    Judge Jones’s opinion could thus be cited, or relied upon for its logic and reasoning, by any other federal or state court in the country facing a similar set of issues, conceivably even by the SCOTUS itself.

    Thus, though the opinion mandates or controls the actions and behavior of only a few, it may potentially prove persusive in a variety of settings far beyond Dover and the Middle Distric of Pennsylvania.

    Hope that helps!

  9. Henry

    Yes, thank you very much, it helps a great deal!

  10. Ty

    You want to censor the truth becouse you can’t handle the truth. You are willingly ignorant.
    Evolution is not science. It cannot be tested, or observed. You’ve got nothing. You are a bunch of propaganda pushers. You wish to indoctrinate the children to groom them for your new world order. Whether you know it or not you are like another stone in an avalache that is burying the truth, and scouring away true history. Your ideolegy is wiping out a beutiful landscape, and only weeds will grow in its place. I believe in the beginning God. You believe in the beginning dirt.

  11. bi

    That was nice. As I understand, the question wasn’t about whether ID is scientific, or whether ID is true, but whether teaching ID in public school science classes is constitutional. Some day I hope to read and find out Judge Jones’ exact line of reasoning for this particular question. Does it hinge only on the fact that the people involved in pushing ID lied about their intentions? I hope not…

    Ty: you’re saying that evolution theory is unscientific… unlike the Omphalos hypothesis, which is perfectly verifiable and falsifiable?

  12. Ty

    No, that is not what I am saying. I understand neither creationism, or evolution is scientific in the true sense of the word. Therefore neither should be tought in science class.

  13. Anonymous

    Also, it is constitutional to teach creation.

  14. bi

    Indeed, it is constitutional to teach creation (in public science classes). Never mind what the law actually says, what the courts actually rule, if I say it is constitutional, then it is constitutional!

    And never mind all the detailed discussions over at talkorigins.org, and never mind the fact that biologists are actually seeing evolution in action in lower life forms, it’s clear that evolution is unfalsifiable and unobservable, because I say it isn’t!

    Now it’s clear whether these folks are really interested in intelligent debate and discussion… *sigh*

    But again, I’m still curious to know the exact line of reasoning leading to the judgement of unconstitutionality.

  15. I was nervous about this case before the judge ruled on it. And it was a great relief to hear the outcome.

    I can’t understand those persons who see their divine beliefs threatened by some humans, using the scientific method, sustaining that the way life exists today, is the result of billions of years of evolution and that it will continue to evolve in the next billions of years. In other words, we are here present as conscious beings only during an extremely short fraction of the time that THIS universe has been going on and will continue to go on.

    When you die and you face God (if that’s what you believe) you, creationists, will have the chance of arguing to the Divinity: “Why did you make me believe that you had created us spontaneously and not as a result of things evolving?” The Divine Being might respond: “After all, that was my call, wasn’t it? As the CREATOR of the Universe, am I not free to choose the method?”

    My father, who died in 1964 when I was 14 years old, once, after having asked him about the mystery of the Trinity (the Holy Trinity, 3 persons in one God) and the idea of “God” as such, he came to me with this very simple answer:

    “We say that God is almighty, don’t we? He can do anything, right? Well, just for an exercise of your mind, place the word Time instead of the word God; then you get: Time can do anything. Everything is possible through Time. That is, everything you SEE today.”

    “About the Holy Trinity, think of it as Time, Space and Energy (matter). If any one of those 3 concepts, elements or ideas is missing, the other two can NOT BE! Try to imagine Space and Time without Energy, no way, since time and space as such are in relation to eneryg. Try to think about space and energy without time: it’s impossible, is n’t it? Energy only exists if there is TIME for it to exist. And so forth”

    I hope this will help some people see things a little clearer. It’s helped me.

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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