[xmca] Intelligent Design decision

From: Steve Gabosch (sgabosch@comcast.net)
Date: Wed Dec 21 2005 - 06:08:41 PST


Here is an article from this morning's LA Times on the decision.
- Steve

December 21, 2005
latimes.com : National News

Judge Says 'Intelligent Design' Is Not Science

He calls a school board's effort to teach it as
an alternative to evolution unconstitutional.

By Henry Weinstein, Times Staff Writer

A federal judge, saying "intelligent design" is
"an interesting theological argument, but not
science," ruled Tuesday that a school board
violated the Constitution by compelling biology
teachers to present the concept as an alternative to evolution.

The ruling came after U.S. District Judge John E.
Jones III heard 21 days of testimony in a closely
watched trial that pitted a group of parents
against the school board in the town of Dover, Pa.

In October 2004, the board had required school
officials to read a statement to ninth-graders
declaring that Charles Darwin's ideas on
evolution were "a theory not a fact," and that
"gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence."

"Intelligent design is an explanation of the
origin of life that differs from Darwin's view," the statement said.

Jones, a church-going conservative who was
appointed to the federal bench by President Bush
in 2002, said the statement was clearly designed
to insert religious teachings into the classroom.
He used much of his 139-page ruling to dissect
arguments made for intelligent design.

Legal experts described the ruling as a sharp
defeat for the intelligent design movement one
likely to have considerable influence with other
judges, although it is only legally binding in one area of Pennsylvania.

The "overwhelming evidence" has established that
intelligent design "is a religious view, a mere
relabeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory," Jones wrote.

Public remarks by school board members, he said,
made clear that they adopted the statement to advance specific religious views.

Testimony at the trial included remarks from a
board meeting, where one of the backers of the
intelligent design statement "said words to the
effect of '2,000 years ago someone died on a
cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?' " the judge noted.

Supporters of intelligent design argue that
biological systems are so complex that they could
not have arisen by a series of random changes.
The complexity of life implies an intelligent
designer, they say. Most of the movement's
spokesmen take care not to publicly say whether
the designer they have in mind is equivalent to
the God in the Bible. On that basis, they argue
that their concept is scientific, not religious.

But Jones said the concept was inescapably religious.

"Although proponents of the [intelligent design
movement] occasionally suggest that the designer
could be a space alien or a time-traveling cell
biologist, no serious alternative to God as the
designer has been proposed by members" of the
movement, including expert witnesses who testified, Jones wrote.

Remarks by board members that they had secular
purposes in mind to improve science teaching
and to foster an open debate were a "sham" and
a "pretext for the board's real purpose, which
was to promote religion in the public school classroom," he wrote.

Anticipating attacks, Jones said his ruling was
not the "product of an activist judge."

He said school board officials had lied in their
testimony and excoriated them for not bothering
to understand what intelligent design was about
before making their decision. He rebuked what he
called the "breathtaking inanity of the board's decision."

"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 intelligent design, he wrote.

The school district will not appeal the ruling,
said Patricia Dapp, who was elected to the Dover
board this year. The supporters of intelligent
design have been voted out of office, and eight
members of the board now oppose the concept, she said.

The Dover trial, in which Jones heard testimony
from leading advocates of intelligent design as
well as experts on evolutionary theory, was one
of several battlegrounds for intelligent design in the last year.

In January, a U.S. district judge in Georgia
ruled that the school system in Cobb County, near
Atlanta, had violated the Constitution by
requiring stickers to be placed on biology
textbooks casting doubt on the theory of evolution.

This month, a federal appeals court in Atlanta
considered arguments in the case, with at least
one judge expressing doubts about the lower court ruling.

In Kansas, the state Board of Education has
changed the definition of science to permit supernatural explanations.

That reliance on the supernatural was key to
Jones' rejection of the Dover school board's position.

Intelligent design arguments "may be true, a
proposition on which this court takes no
position," he wrote, but it "is not science."

"The centuries-old ground rules of science" make
clear that a scientific theory must rely solely
on natural explanations that can be tested, he wrote.

That portion of the decision won praise from
Kenneth R. Miller, a biology professor at Brown
University in Providence, R.I. He was the lead
expert witness for the parents in the case and is
the author of biology textbooks used in college and high school classrooms.

Miller testified that it was crucial that
scientific propositions be able to be tested.

To illustrate his point, Miller, an avid fan of
the Boston Red Sox, testified that when his team
beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 baseball
playoffs, a fan might have believed "God was
tired of [Yankee owner] George Steinbrenner and wanted to see the Red Sox win."

"In my part of the country, you'd be surprised
how many people think that's a perfectly
reasonable explanation for what happened last
year. And you know what? It might be true. But it
certainly is not science and it's certainly not
something we can test," Miller said.

Supporters of intelligent design denounced Jones'
ruling along the lines the judge had predicted.

"The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist
federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific
idea and it won't work," said John West,
associate director of the Center for Science and
Culture at the Discovery Institute. The
institute, based in Seattle, is a major backer of
the intelligent design movement.

"Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to
kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world," West said.

Richard Thompson of the Thomas More Law Center,
the lead lawyer for the school board members,
called the ruling an "ad hominem attack on
scientists who happen to believe in God."

"The founders of this country would be astonished
at the thought that this simple curriculum change
[was] in violation of the Constitution that they drafted," he said.

But Lee Strang, a constitutional law professor at
Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Mich.,
which advocates a greater role for religion in
public life, said that given Supreme Court
precedents and the evidence that Dover school
board members had religious goals in mind, Jones' ruling was inevitable.

The Supreme Court in 1987 barred the teaching in
public schools of what backers called creation
science. The concept of intelligent design
emerged after that ruling, Jones noted in his ruling.

Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas School
of Law said the ruling would probably have
considerable influence because it came after a
trial in which "both sides brought in their top guns" to testify.

The judge's detailed ruling "will be quite
persuasive to other judges and lawyers thinking
about provoking a similar case elsewhere," he said.

Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo School of
Law in New York, who is an expert on religious
freedom issues, agreed that the ruling could have broad ramifications.

"These are tough times to rule against a
religious group," Hamilton said. "This decision
sends a message to judges that it is not
anti-religious to find things like intelligent design unconstitutional."

Eric Rothschild, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers,
called the ruling "a real vindication of the
courage [the parents] showed and the position they took."

The testimony, he said, had demonstrated that
"the emperor had no clothes. The judge concluded
that intelligent design had no scientific merit"
and could not "uncouple itself from religion."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

'Breathtaking inanity'

Excerpts from a 139-page ruling by U.S. District
Judge John E. Jones III, which bars a public
school district in Dover, Pa., from teaching the
concept of intelligent design in biology class.

**

"The breathtaking inanity of the board's decision
is evident when considered against the factual
backdrop which has now been fully revealed
through this trial. 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."

**

"The citizens of the Dover area were poorly
served by the members of the board who voted for
the intelligent design policy. 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 intelligent design policy."

**

"Both defendants and many of the leading
proponents of intelligent design make a bedrock
assumption which is utterly false. Their
presupposition is that evolutionary theory is
antithetical to a belief in the existence of a
supreme being and to religion in general."

**

"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."

**

"Defendants' asserted secular purpose of
improving science education is belied by the fact
that most if not all of the board members who
voted in favor of the biology curriculum change
conceded that they still do not know, nor have
they ever known, precisely what intelligent design is."

**

"Any asserted secular purposes by the board are a
sham and are merely secondary to a religious objective."

**

"Those who disagree with our holding will likely
mark it as the product of an activist judge. If
so, they will have erred as this is manifestly
not an activist court. 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 intelligent design,
who in combination drove the board to adopt an
imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy."

Source: Reuters

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