U.S. Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

Intelligent design (ID) has no place in a science classroom, a Pennsylvania federal district judge ruled today. In a 138-page decision being hailed by U.S. educators and the scientific community, Judge John Jones III concluded that the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board violated the U.S. Constitution by adding ID to the high school science curriculum. The judge also declared that ID meets none of the tests of a scientific theory and that it is simply an updated version of century-old creationist arguments against Darwin's theory of evolution.

"ID is not science," Jones wrote. "We find that ID fails on three different levels. ... Moreover, ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

The decision came in a civil suit brought by the parents of 11 Dover students after the school board passed a resolution in October 2004 declaring that "students will be made aware of gaps and problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design" (ScienceNOW, 27 September). Last month, eight of the nine members of that board were defeated for re-election by a slate of candidates upset with the board's action, which sharply divided the small rural community in southeastern Pennsylvania (ScienceNOW, 9 November).

Scientific groups were quick to praise the ruling. Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and president of the National Center for Science Education, says that Jones' decision makes it clear that "these alternative theories are not theories, and they are not alternatives" to the teaching of evolution. One of the plaintiff's lawyers, Eric Rothschild of Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton LLD, says that the judge's ruling "makes it clear that the emperor of ID has no clothes."

The country's leading ID think tank says its supporters won't be deterred by the ruling. "The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won't work," says John West of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute, a Seattle, Washington-based proponent of intelligent design.

But Jones anticipated that criticism and turned that argument on its head in his decision. "This is manifestly not an activist Court," he writes. "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." His ruling effectively removes the ID statement from the curriculum and invites the plaintiffs' lawyers to bill the school district for "reasonable" costs.

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Posted in Evolution, Education