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Preface

The following article is an overview of the ruling in the case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al 2005. It is not a comprehensive analysis of the Court’s opinion, which is impressively clear, and I encourage all to read it. The article is divided in two sections:

  1. Statement of the Case
  2. Observations

Statement of the Case gives background and identifies the key questions the Court answered, and gives a layman’s explanation of how the Court came to its conclusions. Observations are my opinions on Intelligent Design and its use with attention given to the major points of the Wedge Strategy.

John Keegan

December 2005


Statement of the Case

Tuesday, December 20, 2005 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Judge John E Jones III handed down the Court’s ruling in the case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al (hereinafter Kitzmiller). The decision was a stunning defeat for Intelligent Design in the science classroom. The game was afoot when:

On October 18, 2004, the …Dover Area School Board of Directors passed by a 6-3 vote the following resolution: 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. Note: Origins of Life is not taught. On November 19, 2004, the Defendant Dover Area School District announced by press release that, commencing in January 2005; teachers would be required to read the following statement to students in the ninth grade biology class at Dover High School:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be 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 Darwin’s view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments (Kitzmiller, 2005 pp 1–2).

Science teachers would not read the above disclaimer to their classes when the time came. This stand was taken after repeated attempts on the part of the teachers to compromise with the school board. In a letter dated January 6, 2005 they explained their reasoning stating in part:

…We will relinquish the classroom to an administrator and we will monitor our own students. This request is based upon our considered opinion that reading the statement violates our responsibilities as professional educators as set forth in the Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators promulgated by the Professional Standards and Practices Commission… (Teachers’ letter to the district superintendent, Dr. Richard Nilsen).

Several weeks before the science teachers stated their intention to opt out of the Intelligent Design policy, a group of parents led by Tammy Kitzmiller filed an instant suit on December 14, 2004 challenging the constitutional validity of the Intelligent Design policy. The suit contended that the Intelligent Design policy constitutes an establishment of religion prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is made applicable to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Kitzmiller, 2005 p 2) The trial started on September 26, 2005 and ended on November 4, 2005.

The trial focused on two key questions:

  1. Does the Intelligent Design policy violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
  2. Is Intelligent Design science?

The opinion of the Court goes into great detail to answer the first question. It used two tests set down by the Supreme Court in two cases Lemon v. Kurtzman 1971 (the Lemon Test), County of Allegheny v. ACLU 1989, and a concurring opinion by Justice O'Connor in Lynch v. Donnelly 1984 (the endorsement test). The Lemon test states for government action to be constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment the action must:

  1. The government's action must have a legitimate secular purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion; and
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of the government and religion (Lemon v. Kurtzman 1971)

If any of the above actions or prongs are not demonstrated or violated the government’s action is repugnant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Does the Intelligent Design policy, Dover Area School Board being the government agency in this case, and the Intelligent Design policy being the action of such agency, demonstrate or violate any Lemon prongs?

The Court looked to the Purpose prong, that is, does the Intelligent Design policy improve science education and promote critical thinking, thus have a legitimate secular purpose? In order to answer that question, the Court had to investigate the scientific basis of Intelligent Design and found:

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 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it 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 (Kitzmiller, 2005 p 64).

The Intelligent Design policy does not improve science education; it is not science, thus has no legitimate secular purpose. The Court stated:

Therefore, although Defendants have asserted that the ID Policy has the secular purposes of promoting critical thinking and improving science education, the opposite of such purposes occurred in fact as biology teachers had already began to omit teaching material regarding the theory of evolution in the months preceding the adoption of the ID Policy (Kitzmiller, 2005 pp 99–100).

It is clear after reading the opinion of the Court that the purpose of the board was to advance a creationist view of the origin of species with the Christian God as the creator. From trial testimony cited in the Court’s opinion on pages 94-95, board President Bonsell stated on at least two occasions the idea that creationism should be brought into the schools, and the Court found he wanted creationism to share equal status with evolution. "We accordingly find that Bonsell is clearly the unnamed Board member referred to in Peterman’s memo who wanted fifty percent of the topic of evolution to involve the teaching of creationism” (Kitzmiller, 2005 p 96).In addition to board President Bonsell, board member Buckingham articulated a similar view and went an additional step he testified “that he had previously said the separation of church and state is a myth and not something that he supports….” “Buckingham also said: “It is inexcusable to have a book that says man descended from apes with nothing to counterbalance it” (Kitzmiller, 2005 p103).

The above statements are personal religious opinions and were protected by the First Amendment until they became policy of the board. The Intelligent Design policy did not meet the Purpose criteria, thus violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court also looked to the Effect prong, and the Endorsement test, that is, whether an objective observer; adult, child or student, acquainted with the text, legislative history, and implementation of the statute, would perceive it as a state endorsement of religion. The Court found that an objective observer would view the Intelligent Design policy as an endorsement of religion:

  1. A “hypothetical reasonable observer,” adult or child, who is “aware of the history and context of the community and forum” is also presumed to know that Intelligent Design is a form of creationism. Child Evangelism, 386 F.3d at 531 (citations omitted); Allegheny, 492 U.S. at 624-25. The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism. What is likely the strongest evidence supporting the finding of ID’s creationist nature is the history and historical pedigree of the book to which students in Dover’s ninth grade biology class are referred, Pandas. Pandas is published by an organization called FTE, as noted, whose articles of incorporation and filings with the Internal Revenue Service describe it as a religious, Christian organization. (P-461; P-28; P-566; P-633; Buell Dep. 1:13, July 8, 2005)… (31)
  2. After a careful review of the record and for the reasons that follow, we find that an objective student would view the disclaimer as a strong official endorsement of religion. (38)
  3. Accordingly, we find that the classroom presentation of the disclaimer, including school administrators making a special appearance in the science classrooms to deliver the statement, the complete prohibition on discussion or questioning ID, and the “opt out” feature all convey a strong message of religious endorsement. (47)

For the above and many other reasons the Court Ordered:

  1. A declaratory judgment is hereby issued in favor of Plaintiffs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 such that Defendants’ ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and Art. I, § 3 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
  2. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 65, Defendants are permanently enjoined from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District (Kitzmiller, 2005 p 139).

Observations

Intelligent Design is creationism and in this case was used to drive a wedge into a community forcing people to take sides. Throughout the 139 pages of the Court’s opinion there is evidence of a lack to allow a free discussion of ideas and that the Intelligent Design policy infringed upon the rights of the families in the community to believe as they choose. Choice is a fundamental right. The United States was founded upon morality that is not exclusive of or to any religion; therefore, to protect the free exercise of religion no public agency funded by tax money can or should endorse any religion. The minute the state or any agency of it adopts one religion it prohibits the free exercise of all others, thus making any citizen who does not practice the state religion an outsider in their own community, and not entitled to its basic rights because they are different. The Founding Fathers called this concept Tyranny of the Majority.

Some would say that science is atheistic, and evolution is an example of that atheism. In 1998 the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture spelled out their plans for overturning science as it is currently done and replacing it with "theistic science". This Wedge Strategy has at its core Christian and theistic convictions, thus anything outside those Christian convictions would be discounted and abandoned. Evolution is not atheistic; neither is science. Evolution does not say there is no God; nor does it say if one accepts evolution one must be an atheist. Intelligent Design is used to promote Christian convictions, and bad science. In and of themselves, Christian convictions are not bad, nor is Intelligent Design; but, it must be said that some people who support Intelligent Design as science want nothing less than a Christians only America because they know what is best for all.

The Wedge Strategy states:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God… came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected virtually every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art (Wedge Strategy)

The above conception of humans as animals or machines bound by natural laws goes back to Thomas Hobbes in the Leviathan 1651 in which he gave a materialistic view of mankind. Hobbes stated, “Life without a government—the state of nature is war… every man against every man… and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Johnson 1994 p 4). Then, Newton explained how the universe worked in his Principia Mathematica published in 1687. Next, John Locke in his Essay on Toleration 1689 argued, “all religions are worthy of respect, none priority” (Greaves 1992 p 566). That is the basis for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The authors of the Wedge Strategy need to read more history, why pick on Darwin, Freud, and Marx when Hobbes, Newton, and Locke started the whole thing? One problem with the Wedge Strategy is the authors’ understanding of the concept of materialism which they do not define. Materialism is the “belief that only physical things truly exist” (Materialism). Thus, one could say God is not physical; therefore, God does not exist; some social theories may hold this view, but to say science is materialistic is to misunderstand and misrepresent the scientific and Socratic methods. But it is in line with the Wedge Strategy governing goals:

  1. To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies.
  2. To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God (Wedge Strategy)

The first goal assumes science is amoral, and requires change. Science is not amoral without standards and ethics they are, simply, not ones the authors of the Wedge Strategy would like science to have. The second goal assumes that a theistic (for theistic read Christian) understanding that nature and human beings are created by God is best for America. Science is, as it must to be of any use, asking questions, and making observations. Those questions and observations make Christians uncomfortable, thus they allege their beliefs are under attack by science. This goal also discounts the pluralistic nature of the Constitution, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

This nation was founded upon morality that is not exclusive of or to any religion; giving all religions respect, none priority. Intelligent Design is a tool that some of its supporters hope will give Christianity priority. Our government just was not set up that way, and the authors of the Wedge Strategy know that, and so do the supporters of Intelligent Design. If they want Intelligent Design accepted as science then they should do the science; follow the rules. They should submit there work for review and analysis (if they have any work), and let the chips fall where they may.


Links


Works Cited

Greaves R. L. et al (1992). Civilizations of the West: The Human Adventure NY: Harper Collins.

Johnson P.E. et al (1994). American Government. NJ: Houghton Mifflin

Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al (2005) United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [On-line] Available: 21 December 2005

Lemon v. Kurtzman 1971 [On-line] Available: 21 December 2005 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lemon_test

Materialism [On-line] Available: 21 December 2005 http://www.philosophypages.com/dy/m2.htm#mat

Teachers’ letter to the district superintendent, Dr. Richard Nilsen January 6, 2005 [On-line] Available: 21 December 2005 http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2005/PA/304_dover_teachers_refuse_to_read__1_7_2005.asp

Wedge Strategy [On-line] Available: 21 December 2005 http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html