Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update-- CASE CLOSED!

For anyone who has only recently begun reading Deep Thought, this has been an ongoing series of articles, as we followed a the court case, Kitzmiller vs. Dover school board, in which the Dover, Pennsylvania school board had tried to force Biology teachers to teach the so-called theory of Intelligent Design (actually an untested hypothesis) alongside evolution.

Previous posts in this series (chronologically) include:

Has the monkey from the Scopes trial been elected to the school board?
(background post)

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (about the testimony of Dr. Robert T. Pennock refuting the idea that I.D. qualifies as science, as well as the notes by two reporters who had attended the school board meetings where the decision was made)

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (II) (about the testimony of Dr. Barbara Forrest about the textbooks chosen for the new curriculum)

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (III) (about the testimony of Dr. Michael Behe, a proponent of Intelligent Design)

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (IV) (about the conclusion of the trial). This post includes the phrase, Federal Judge John E. Jones III said he hopes to issue a ruling in January.

Dover, PA vs. Darwin update (NOT) (about all eight of the Republican school board members who had supported the teaching of Intelligent Design being voted out of office by the voters in Dover and replaced by eight Democrats who promised to remove it from the curriculum regardless of the judge's decision).

Well, you will note that Judge Jones had originally promised a decision in January. But, apparently, this case was so clear cut that he didn't even have to take that long. Today, he unequivocably ruled that Intelligent Design is not science and should not be mandated as part of the curriculum in Biology class.

HARRISBURG, Pa. - "Intelligent design" is "a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory" and cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.

Dover Area School Board members violated the Constitution when they ordered that its biology curriculum must include the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III (a Republican who was appointed two years ago by President Bush) said.

“We find that the secular purposes claimed by the Board amount to a pretext for the Board’s real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom,” he wrote in his 139-page opinion. “The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy,” Jones wrote, adding that several members repeatedly lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs....

The judge made a point of criticizing the school board members and the "breathtaking inanity" of their decision. “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," he wrote.

(I guess their religious beliefs allow for lying.)

And, if its not science, then what is it? Jones has the answer:

The plaintiffs challenging the policy argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools. The judge agreed.

“We conclude that the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child," Jones said.

He makes another astute obervation about the disclaimer that was put into textbooks.

The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation. It required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement said Charles Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps” and referred students to an intelligent-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People,” for more information.

Jones blasted the disclaimer, saying it "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 forgo scientific inquiry in the public school classroom and instead to seek out religious instruction elsewhere."

Exactly. There are certainly aspects of the Theory of Gravity, the Theory of Relativity, the Theory of valence shell repulsion-- which helps determine how chemical reactions take place, and other scientific theories which have not yet been fully explored or explained. And ongoing inquiry is going on with all of these areas. But no one suggests that just because we don't understand yet why gravity even exists, that we should reject the theory or teach that there could be an alternate theory that would allow for objects to fall upwards. Evolution has actually been held to an even higher standard than other theories, and yet no one has succeeded in disproving it despite the countless attempts to do so by generations of people motivated by misguided religious dogma, ever since Darwin first published his work.

And anticipating the always used reaction of the extreme right when things don't go their way, Jones wrote:

“Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge," Jones wrote. "If so, they will have erred. ... 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 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.

Right again. Ruling in favor of continuing to teach Biology as science is hardly activism. It was the school board members who were the 'activists,' in this case, trying to change the curriculum to fit their ideas. And as was previously mentioned, Jones is no liberal activist, but a Republican who was appointed to the position by President Bush.

Eric Rothschild, the lead attorney for the families who challenged the policy, called the ruling “a real vindication for the parents who had the courage to stand up and say there was something wrong in their school district.”

And the new school board has it right:

The board members were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.

They also will likely drop the old plan now that the judge has ruled, new board president Bernadette Reinking said. “As far as I can tell you, there is no intent to appeal,” she said.

Reinking said the new board will likely move the subject of intelligent design into some undetermined elective social studies class. She said the board will need to talk to its attorney before determining specific actions.

That's fine. Discuss it in a theology class, a philosophy class or a civics class (in fact, the recent history of Dover would make it a great topic for a civics class). But not in a science class.


dorsano said...

I think this judge was appointed by Bush only a couple of years if I'm not mistaken. Do you know, Eli?

EAPrez said...

Finally some common sense is restored! The decision will stand since the newly elected school board is not likely to appeal! Our side wins one!

Eli Blake said...

Yes, he was dorsano. I just edited the post and added that information in.


And common sense wins one as well. I am religious myself, but I can't for the life of me understand why people would want to 1) teach our kids something that has not been proven in a science class, 2) damage our competitiveness in scientific research in the world, and 3) spend thousands of dollars of a small town's school budget just to have a judge tell them what has essentially been policy since 1925 (and which has not even been an issue in any other industrialized country for fifty years, making us also the laughing stock of the international scientific community).