School policy goes to federal court
Defending design in Dover (Pennsylvania, USA)
School policy that questions Darwin and informs about intelligent design goes to federal court
by Pam Sheppard, staff writer, AiGUSA
September 26, 2005
The debate over how origins should be taught in Americas public school science classes takes
center stage in US federal court today (September 26) where the idea of intelligent design will be
the main act. While no cameras will be allowed in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania courtroom, much
international attention will be focused on the case of Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School
District [see previous web article Will intelligence prevail in Dover, PA?].
During the trial, which even British newspapers (like the Independent) are calling the most
important legal case involving the creation/evolution debate in the USA in the last 18 years, the
Dover Area School District will defend its current policy which requires ninth-grade students to
hear about intelligent design (the idea that certain features of living and non-living things were
designed by an intelligent cause as opposed to being formed through natural causes) at the
beginning of their biology lessons on evolution.
Dover disclaimer text
Because Darwins Theory is a theory, it is still being 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 Darwins view. The
reference book, Of Pandas and People is available for students to see if they would like to
explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually
involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
The statement, which 11 parents of students at a Dover high school oppose, tells students that
evolution is a theory and not a fact. (See sidebar for the full text.) It also informs them that
intelligent design (ID) is an alternative explanation of the origin of life and refers them to a
book, Of Pandas and People, if they want to learn more about ID.
Is intelligent design science or religion?
This non-juried trial, said by some observers to resemble the 1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee [see
Inherit the Wind: an historical analysis] in a number of ways, is expected to be the first time a
federal court has been asked to decide the question: is intelligent design science or religion?
The left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, who joined the case, claim that the Dover policy violates the Establishment
Clause of the First Amendment1 by promoting a religious doctrine.
ACLU attorney, Paula Knudsen, said in a York (PA) Dispatch article (September 23) that there are
two things at the heart of this case. Did the school board have religious intentions in adopting
a policy that mentions intelligent design, and does intelligent design have religious
underpinnings? Knudsen and the ACLU attorneys in her group are set out to prove both.
One of the most widely misreported facts about the Dover policy, according to the Dover Area
School District News (February 2005), has been that Dover school district requires the teaching
of intelligent design. But students are only made aware of intelligent design and an associated
book during the reading of a one-minute statement prior to the ninth grade biology course, and so
they are not actually taught about it.2
One of the states senators, Rick Santorum, helped set the record straight in an editorial that
appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (December 25, 2004 and in the Dover Area School District
News), by saying, The school board simply has presented a balanced curriculum that makes students
aware of the controversies surrounding evolution.
Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending
the school district, echoed that same opinion in an Associated Press article (September 18) when
he said, All the Dover school board did was allow students to get a glimpse of a controversy that
is really boiling over in the scientific community.
Controversy among scientistsover evolution?
Not everyone even admits there is a controversy. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the
anti-creationist National Center for Science, said in an Associated Press article (September 18),
that intelligent design supporters seem to have shifted virtually entirely to political and
rhetorical efforts to sway the general public. The bitter truth is that there is no argument going
on in the scientific community about whether evolution took place.3
The reality, however, is quite the opposite. In fact, there is a growing number of scientists,
including the 400 (from all disciplines) who have signed a public statement saying they are
skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the
complexity of life.4
One of those signatures comes from Professor Philip S. Skell, member of the National Academy of
Sciences, who along with Evan Pugh (Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Penn State University)
submitted an open letter to Dr. Steve Abrams, Chair of Kansas State Board of Education, during the
Kansas evolution hearings [see Kansas evolution hearings: the case of the missing data].
The letter stated that, For those scientists who take it seriously, Darwinian evolution has
functioned more as a philosophical belief system than as a testable scientific hypothesis.
The ACLUs double-standard
So where does intelligent designs biggest advocate, the Discovery Institute, stand in this widely
publicized case? For them, the issues are more about free speech than about so-called separation
of church and state.
Discovery Institute strongly opposes the ACLUs effort to make discussions of intelligent design
illegal, Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institutes Center for Science and
Culture said in a Discovery Institute News release (dated September 30).
In fact, he recognizes the ACLU applying a double-standard in this matter by saying the following:
Apparently the ACLU has come to believe that some ideas are just too dangerous for students and
teachers to discuss. On the one hand, it insists that the First Amendment protects a teachers
right to teach evidence supporting Darwins theory. On the other hand, it claims that the same
First Amendment forbids teachers from discussing dissenting scientific theories. It looks like the
ACLU believes that free speech only applies to one side of the evolution debate.
Regarding the issue of mandatory teaching of intelligent design, West said the Discovery Institute
disagrees with efforts to get the government to require the teaching of intelligent design.
The reason for this, as West explained, is that most teachers currently do not know enough about
intelligent design or have sufficient curriculum materials to teach about it accurately and
objectively. (AiG has a similar stand on the mandatory teaching of creation for these same
In the Discovery Institute news release (dated September 30), West outlined the approach they
recommend: Rather than require students to learn about intelligent design, what we recommend is
that teachers and students study more about Darwinian evolution, not only the evidence that
supports the theory, but also scientific criticisms of the theory.
Predicting the outcome
So, what will be the likely outcome of this highly anticipated trial? It will no doubt have
far-reaching effects for years to come on what public school students are taught about the origins
of life. The judges ruling will most likely impact 20 other states, such as Kansas, Ohio and
Georgia [see The sticker didn't stick (or did it?)], where intelligent design is gaining support.
In August, the Kansas Board of Education gave preliminary approval to science standards that allow
alternatives, like intelligent design, to be discussed alongside evolution in its science classes.
If we lose this case youre going to see intelligent design taught in schools all across the
country, ACLU attorney Witold Walczak warned in an article in the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant
Echoing that same prediction if the Dover School Board wins the case, Thompson said in the Courant
article, it will be a bellwether to start including intelligent design as part of the
David Masci of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life made the following prediction in the
legal backgrounder of important cases in the evolution debate by saying, if intelligent design is
judged to be a legitimate scientific theory, it could well pass constitutional muster. However, if
intelligent design is put in the same category as creation science, the court will likely deem
it, in one way or another, to be an advancement of religion and hence a violation of the
No matter the outcome of this court battle (the trial is expected to last five weeks), the losing
side is likely to appeal and the case eventually may find itself at the Supreme Court, which would
lead to a ruling that could set a national precedent for all public school boards to follow.
While recent polls [see And the survey shows] show that a growing number of Americans say they
favor teaching creation alongside evolution in public schools, AiG does not support mandatory
teaching of the creation position (imagine how unbelievers would distort our position), but argues
that it would be good if Christian teachers (and other teachers) were guaranteed the legislative
freedom and encouragement to present critiques of evolution and discuss alternatives.
Check our website for continued updates on this very important court case in Pennsylvania. But
keep in mind, bringing a case like this to a federal court reveals a symptom of a problem in
society: the removal of biblical authority from everyday life. Christians cannot return America to
its once-Christian foundation until they fully believe and reclaim biblical authority, beginning
with the very first verse of Gods Word.
References and notes
A three-part test, called the Lemon test, is frequently used to determine whether a government
action violates the Establishment Clause. Under this test, an action must (1) have a bona fide
secular purpose; (2) not advance or inhibit religion; and (3) not excessively entangle the
government with religion. If the challenged action fails any of the three parts of the Lemon test,
it is deemed to have violated the Establishment Clause. (The Pew Forum on Religion and Public
Dover Area School District News, Biology Curriculum Update,
www.dover.k12.pa.us/doversd/lib/doversd/DASD_Biology_Update_2-05.pdf, February 2005.
Raffaele, Martha, Intelligent design debate takes center stage in federal court, Associated
Press, NEPA News, www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm, September 18, 2005.
Discovery Institute staff, Over 400 Scientists Convinced by New Scientific Evidence That Darwinian
Evolution is Deficient, Discovery Institute News,
http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2732, July 18, 2005.
Masci, David, From Darwin to Dover: An Overview of Important Cases in the Evolution Debate, The
Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=116, September 22, 2005.
Christopher W. Ashcraft
Northwest Creation Network