Intelligent design is a religious idea and a Pennsylvania school board may not introduce it into the classroom, a federal judge ruled today. Judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover Area School Board improperly introduced religion into the classroom when it required science teachers to read a brief statement during the 9th grade biology class telling students that evolution was "Just a theory" and inviting them to consider alternatives. The only alternative specifically mentioned was "intelligent design," the notion that life is so complex that it could not possibly have been the work of natural selection alone and must have been the work of an unspecified creative intelligence. "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," Jones wrote.
Members of the school board, and defenders of intelligent design generally, contend that their idea is a legitimate scientific rival to evolution. Since the notion of intelligent design does not specify who or what created life as we know it, they say, it is not an inherently religious idea. Critics, however, say that intelligent design is inherently religious since it relies on a supernatural creative force, which cannot be tested or proven by scientific experiments. This, they said, is tantamount to introducing God into the process, an impermissible injection of religion into the classroom.
Jones agreed and pointedly rejected intelligent design as a legitimate scientific theory. "To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect," he wrote. "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."
Jones sharply rejected any suggestion that evolution was somehow at odds with religion. "Both defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption that is utterly false," he wrote. "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, plaintiff's 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."
Jones seemed particularly annoyed by the Dover school board members, who denied under oath that the approval of intelligent design was based on religious conviction, despite the testimony of several witnesses who said board members made overtly religious comments during their deliberations. "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," Jones wrote.
Jones' decision applies only to the Dover case, but the case had been closely watched nationwide since it was the first court test of intelligent design. The Supreme Court has repeatedly banned efforts to remove evolution from the classroom or to introduce Creationism, the idea that life on earth was created directly by God. Critics of evolution had hoped that intelligent design, which is not specific about who or what created life, would survive a court challenge.
It's unclear whether the case will be appealed, however. Voters in Dover threw out eight of the nine pro-intelligent design school board members in the regular election last month, installing a slate of solidly anti-intelligent design candidates. Those school board members have given conflicting statements as to whether they would allow the case to continue to the appeals courts in hopes of making it a national test case to ban intelligent design from the classroom.
The Dover school board became the first in the nation to explicitly embrace intelligent design in October of 2004, when it required teachers to read the brief statement at the start of the evolution unit in the biology class. Teachers later refused and the statement was read instead by administrators. Jones said the Dover case was 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." He derided the school board's decision as "breathtaking inanity" and said the resulting "legal maelstrom" was an "utter waste of monetary and personal resources." The judge's decision clears the way for the plaintiffs in the case to demand repayment of legal expenses. It's not clear, therefore, how much the case may wind up costing the taxpayers of Dover.