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Dover disruption

Science | The democratic blow to the ID movement is likely to reverberate in school boards nationwide

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

Judge John E. Jones III has yet to rule in a lawsuit against Dover, Pa., school board officials who added a statement mentioning Intelligent Design (ID) to their ninth-grade science curriculum. But citizens within the district made their decision on Nov. 8, narrowly voting to replace members of the board with a pro-evolution panel committed to keeping ID out of science classrooms.

The new board members have said they will wait for Judge Jones' decision before removing the ID statement from the curriculum. They have also expressed openness to teaching students about ID in philosophy or social studies classes.

But the democratic blow to the ID movement is likely to reverberate in school boards nationwide. In Dover, outgoing board member David Napierskie proposed revoking the curriculum change and filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit-perhaps realizing board members had acted outside the will of their constituents. National polls show a small majority of Americans support teaching ID alongside evolution in public schools, but such numbers vary widely from state to state and district to district.

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Even as Dover voters delivered a potential chill on future ID advancements from school boards across the country, Pat Robertson sought to deliver a counterbalance. The "700 Club" TV minister warned the citizens of Dover that in case of a "disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected Him from your city." The remarks drew massive scorn from secular and Christian sources alike, further diminishing the near absent credibility of a man who recently called for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Neither Mr. Robertson nor Dover voters had any impact on the Kansas State Board of Education, however. On Nov. 8, Kansas adopted a science curriculum that includes well-established challenges to the theory of evolution. The new standards will not propose alternate theories, such as ID, but will refrain from teaching Darwinism as unchallenged fact. School districts will evaluate whether to add alternate theories in 2008.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, the intellectual engine behind ID, has praised the Kansas board for its measured approach. Discovery Institute officials did not support the Dover school board's bolder strategy, believing it could ultimately harm perceptions of ID.

The Kansas development is unlikely to draw similar legal action to that in Dover, where litigating parents characterized ID as thinly veiled creationism. Proving that religious motivation is behind a more thorough teaching of evolution would be a far more slippery noodle.

Kansans who support the teaching of Darwinism without challenges are more likely to chase after the lead of Dover voters, pegging the school board as creationists in the court of public opinion. That campaign is underway: "What the board has done is impose its religious beliefs on schoolchildren," University of Kansas Chancellor Robert Hemenway told the Associated Press. But such rhetoric may struggle to gain political traction in a state where polls suggest a majority of people not only support the board's decision, but advocate the next step-teaching ID.

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