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Science | Intelligent design finds new life after Dover defeat

Issue: "Who's laughing now?," April 8, 2006

Evolutionists have trumpeted an intelligent design (ID) loss in Dover, Pa. (see "Dover disruption," Dec. 3, 2005) as the beginning of the end for the alternative to Darwinism. Their excitement is understandable, since voters kicked out of office the pro-ID school board members and Judge John E. Jones III knocked out of schools a brief statement acknowledging ID's existence.

It seemed that neither citizens nor a judge were willing to allow the hearing of alternatives to science's sacred dogma. But a Southern California school district on March 21 demonstrated that winter is over and spring is bringing new hope to ID proponents: The Lancaster, Calif., school board of trustees unanimously adopted a science policy that allows teachers to discuss problems in Darwin's theory. The new policy, while not calling for the teaching of ID, discourages a view of evolution as "unalterable fact."

The Kansas State Board of Education adopted similar standards in November, and the policies of New Mexico, Minnesota, and several individual districts also encourage critical thinking. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a pro-ID think tank, endorses the strategy of exposing the holes in Darwinism rather than offering alternative theories. The reason: True scientific research acknowledges inconsistencies or gaps in data, but when ID is taught in the classroom, the public often perceives this as religious indoctrination.

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In the Dover case, Judge Jones charged that ID "is a religious view, a mere relabeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory." He went so far as to accuse school board members of hiding their true motives, much to the objection of former school board member James Cashman, who called the school board's requirement-ninth-grade students were to hear a statement that Darwinian evolution is not a scientific fact-not "a breach of the establishment clause. It really had nothing to do with that." Ninth-graders were also told about an ID textbook but not forced to read it.

Mr. Cashman says his school board might have achieved its goals if it had employed a different strategy. His biggest regret is that the board took the advice of its legal team, the Thomas More Law Center, to avoid media comment. While the board kept a low profile, Mr. Cashman says the public received a daily propaganda feed from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its liberal media allies. That one-sided account, in Mr. Cashman's view, hijacked the trial and deceived well-meaning people.

Mr. Cashman argues that the attention the ACLU draws to the evolution debate will ultimately expose Darwinism's flaws, as people become more informed of the facts. Opponents of Darwinism haven't given up on Dover; creationist Kent Hovind recently spoke at Dover Area High School and discussed the flaws in Dover's ninth-grade biology textbook, written by Ken Miller, who testified against the school board during the trial.

The Lancaster news is a bright spot for ID proponents after some recent defeats. On Feb. 14, the Ohio state school board rejected a 3-year-old requirement that evolution be taught critically (see "Junk science," Feb. 25). Also this year, the Utah House of Representatives turned down a bill that would have forced public schools to teach evolution as theory rather than fact, and the South Carolina board of education rejected a state panel's proposal that students be encouraged to "critically analyze" evolution.

But in a new book, Traipsing into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision (DI Press, 2006), Discovery Institute scholars outline a hard but not hopeless future for ID proponents and conclude that "teachers seeking to 'teach the controversy' over Darwinian evolution in today's climate will likely be met with false warnings that it is unconstitutional to say anything negative about Darwinian evolution."

This "chilling effect on open inquiry" receives a lambasting from law professors such as Steven D. Smith of the University of San Diego: "The mainstream science establishment and the courts tell us, in censorious tones that sometimes sound a bit desperate, that intelligent design is just a lot of fundamentalist cant. It's not. . . . We've heard the Darwinist story, and we owe it to ourselves to hear the other side."

Anthony Paul Mator
Anthony Paul Mator

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