Monday, May. 08, 2006

John Jones

Judge John Jones must have seemed like the answer to creationists' prayers: a Bush-appointed Republican federal judge, and a Lutheran to boot, chosen by lot to decide whether school-board guidance on the teaching of intelligent design to public schools in Dover, Pa., breached the First Amendment separation of church and state. When Jones delivered his judgment in December, however, he proved to be the answer to Darwinians' prayers instead.

In a rebuke to the proponents of intelligent design, Jones called the phrase "a mere relabeling of creationism," intended to get around the 1987 judicial ban on teaching creationism as science in public schools, and a "breathtaking inanity" that fails the test as science. He castigated its proponents and said Dover's students, parents and teachers "deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom."

Intelligent design was indeed a euphemism specially intended to get around judges. But it didn't get past Jones, 50, the grandson of a golf-course developer of Welsh ancestry, whose previous claims to fame were a failed attempt to privatize Pennsylvania's state liquor stores as chairman of the Liquor Control Board—and banning Bad Frog Beer on the grounds that its label was obscene. He now finds himself an unlikely hero for scientists, many of whom credit his decision with taking some steam out of the intelligent-design movement.

Had Jones been a Democrat or an atheist, his judgment might have had less impact. He displayed not only a quick wit in the courtroom but also an easy grasp of complex arguments about such things as the molecular motor that drives the bacterial flagellum—which the creationists believe has "irreducible complexity" and therefore could not have been designed except by a designer. Perhaps now, after Jones, people will accept that if they want to teach children about God, they should do so in church, not in science classes.

Ridley's biography of Francis Crick comes out next month