Author’s note: Today is the 8th anniversary of the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, the first (and only) court case to assess the constitutionality of teaching intelligent design (ID) in public schools. This ruling is a model of why we don’t want judges ruling on complicated scientific and social questions — they often get things badly wrong, and succumb to the temptation to attempt to settle age-old debates within science and religion, something the government isn’t supposed to do.
We’ve issued many responses to the ruling in the past, but this year I thought we’d commemorate the anniversary of “Kitzmas” by posting an excerpt from the new ID textbook released earlier this year, Discovering Intelligent Design. The textbook, by the way, is a great Christmas gift for anyone, whether a student or an adult, who wants an easy-to-read introduction to both the cosmological and biological evidence for intelligent design. With that, here’s an excerpt from the final chapter of Discovering Intelligent Design, responding to the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling:
IT’S NOT OVER BECAUSE OF DOVER
In 2004, members of the Dover Area School Board adopted a policy requiring that a four-paragraph statement mentioning ID be read to students in biology class. The board members approached the subject from a Biblical creationist perspective and knew little about intelligent design.
Leading ID groups oppose pushing ID into public schools, and they strongly urged the Dover school board to repeal its ill-advised policy. The board refused, and attorneys working with the ACLU and the NCSE seized the opportunity to take the Dover School District to court.
Federal district court Judge John E. Jones III decided to use the lawsuit as an occasion to rule on the scientific status of ID, concluding that “ID is an interesting theological argument, but… not science.” He felt it was his place to define science, declaring that it must be “based upon natural explanations.”
Since that trial, materialists have been proclaiming that the ID debate is over because a federal judge decided that it’s a religious concept, not a scientific one. But judges are not inerrant. In fact, the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling contains many factual and legal mistakes. Judge Jones’s errors include:
- Adopting a false definition of ID by claiming that ID requires supernatural (i.e., divine) causation, that it is nothing more than creationism relabeled, and that it is a strictly negative argument against evolution.
- Denying the existence of pro-ID, peer-reviewed, scientific publications and research that were testified about in his own courtroom.
- Adopting an unfair double standard of legal analysis where religious implications, beliefs, and motives count against ID but never against materialist theories of origins.
- Presuming it is permissible for a federal judge to try to define science, settle controversial scientific questions, and explain the proper relationship between evolution and religion.
- Attempting to turn science into a voting contest by claiming that popularity is required for an idea to be scientific.
The fact that one federal judge disagrees with ID does not settle this debate. In America’s three-tiered system of federal courts, the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling was issued from the lowest level. No other case to date has squarely dealt with teaching ID in public schools. While Judge Jones did successfully ban ID in Dover, no other school district in the U.S. is subject to the ruling, and there is no national law that prohibits teaching ID.
A court ruling cannot negate the scientific evidence pointing to intelligent design. Rather than showing that ID is not science, the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision shows that scientific and academic freedom in this country are at risk.
Commenting on Judge Jones’s activism, anti-ID legal scholar Jay Wexler stated that “the part of Kitzmiller that finds ID not to be science is unnecessary, unconvincing, not particularly suited to the judicial role, and even perhaps dangerous both to science and to freedom of religion.”
DO RELIGIOUS BELIEFS MATTER?
Judge Jones stated in his ruling that ID is a religious concept, in part because “Professors Behe and Minnich admitted their personal view is that the designer is God.” Is that a valid objection?
Of course not. Everyone has personal beliefs. But personal beliefs don’t change the evidence.
In science, only one thing ultimately matters: the evidence. The claim that people of faith have no business commenting on scientific matters is both hypocritical and logically absurd.
Many proponents of intelligent design are religious and believe in God, just like the vast majority of people around the world. However, there are also noteworthy non-religious scholars who defend ID as a legitimate intellectual position. What all ID proponents share is an awareness that the universe shows scientifically detectable evidence for intelligent design.
If religious motives or beliefs are sufficient reasons to dismiss scientific theories, then many of the foundational figures of modern science would have to be erased from the record.
For example, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton are among many scientists who were inspired to their scientific work by religious conviction that God would create an orderly, comprehensible universe. Their scientific theories turned out to be correct–not because of their religious beliefs but because the scientific evidence validated their hypotheses.
Furthermore, when materialists base their objections upon the alleged religious motives of ID proponents, they also make a hypocritical argument. After all, many leading evolutionists have passionately expressed anti-religious beliefs and motives.
For example, Richard Dawkins holds the dual honor of being the world’s most famous evolutionist and the world’s most famous atheist. His personal stated goal is “to kill religion,” and he asserts that “faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate.”
Another materialist and ardent evolutionist, Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, has stated:
[T]he teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that! One of the things that in fact has driven me in my life, is the feeling that this is one of the great social functions of science–to free people from superstition.
The NCSE’s executive director, Eugenie Scott, was called by Nature “the nation’s most high-profile Darwinist,” and she is a signer of the Third Humanist Manifesto. The manifesto aims to promote a worldview “without supernaturalism,” where humans are “the result of unguided evolutionary change,” and the universe is “self-existing.”
Many evolutionary biologists agree with Dr. Scott’s outlook. A poll published in Nature found that only 5.5% of National Academy of Sciences biologists believe in God. Likewise, a survey of evolutionary biologists published in The Scientist found that only two out of 149 polled described themselves as “full theists.”
ID and neo-Darwinian evolution are both scientific theories that can have larger philosophical or religious implications. But the fact that they may have implications for or against theism does not disqualify either of them from being scientific.
Science should be an empirically based search for truth. If ID critics want to harp upon the religious beliefs and motives of ID proponents, then they should be forewarned that the argument cuts both ways.
Scientists, whatever their personal beliefs, should have every right to express their views. Their personal religious or anti-religious views are irrelevant as long as they are making sound scientific claims.