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Does the Kitzmiller v. Dover Ruling Show that Intelligent Design is Academically Substandard?

Casey Luskin

Judgejohnjones (1).jpg

The other day I discussed how, in claiming that intelligent design does not deserve academic freedom, critics commonly appeal to scientific authorities who have issued politically motivated condemnations of ID. But there is another authority these folks often cite, uncritically too. They just love the Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling, presenting it as if that were the ultimate, unassailable refutation of ID. We affectionately call this the “Judge Jones Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It” approach to ID. However, Judge Jones’s ruling includes numerous false claims about law and science, on top of other deficiencies, that make it a highly inaccurate and unreliable analysis of intelligent design.

For example, Judge Jones:

Critics sometimes attack ID proponents for calling Judge Jones an “activist,” as if we said that simply because we disagreed with the ruling. But the final bullet-point above explains that Judge Jones’s ruling fits scholarly textbook definitions of judicial activism. As Jones himself admitted, he wanted to influence groups that weren’t party to his case, and tried to settle issues beyond the scope of the judiciary. Even a leading anti-ID legal scholar, Boston University law professor Jay Wexler, argues that Judge Jones’s ruling on whether ID is science goes beyond appropriate judicial inquiry:

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.

(Jay D. Wexler, “Kitzmiller and the ‘Is It Science?’ Question,” 5 First Amendment Law Review 90, 93 (2006) (emphasis added).)

What exactly was so wrong with Judge Jones’s section on ID and science? As I’ve already noted, he used a six-part test for analyzing whether ID is science, but each of the criteria he listed was wrongly applied, irrelevant, or both. Here’s what Judge Jones wrote:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community … [4] ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, [5] it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor [6] has it been the subject of testing and research.

Again, each of those six criteria are irrelevant to a determination of whether ID is science and/or Judge Jones’s analysis of that criterion was flat wrong. Let’s consider each of these separately.

Here are some links for further reading:

The bottom line is this: Long after the ruling was handed down, living cells will still always contain digital code and microbiological machines that provide evidence for design. This debate won’t be settled by courts, but by scientists and other scholars who give design a fair hearing.

The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision doesn’t show that ID lacks academic merit because it doesn’t strike down the actual theory of ID. It ignores how ID proponents define their own theory and attacks the critics’ straw-man version of intelligent design. Judge Jones’s ruling is so full of errors of science, of law, and of philosophy that it’s a great model for why we don’t want federal judges trying to settle scientific controversies.

Image: Judge John Jones. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.