The Year that Evolved by Design

In science education, the year 2005, 100 years after Einstein’s “Annus Mirabilis,” had its own miracles, and that was the decision rendered by the Federal Judge, John Jones in the case brought to his court by parents in the Dover, PA school district challenging the school board’s decision to insist that science teachers read a 4-paragraph statement suggesting that intelligent design be lofted into the science curriculum. The design of the board members didn’t work very well; firstly all 8 board members that supported the idea were tossed out of office in the November 2005 election (miracle #1). And then to make matters worse, the judge in his decision in December 2005 called several of the board members liars and declared that intelligent design was not science, and had no place in the science curriculum (miracle #2).

One of the leading advocates of the intelligent desgin is the Discovery Institute, based in Seattle, Washington . The day after the decision was made public by Jones’ court, newspapers around the country carried the story. The USA Today newspaper’s editorial page ran a piece called “Ruling on ‘intelligent design’ one for the history books.” Most newspapers around the country had pieces of similar content. On some of the pages of these newspapers where the paper gave “equal time” to opposing views appeared pieces written by a John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute. I found his piece in two of the papers I read (USA Today and the Atlanta Journal), and also found a letter to the editor in the New York Times written by Robert L. Crowther II, director of communications at the Discovery Institute. These three pieces read more like “press releases” rather than specific reactions to an editorial. This caught my attention, and I decided to look into the nature of the Discovery Institute.

The Discovery Institute is not a leading center of scientific discovery. It exists primarilly to propagandize intelligent design. It does no research, although it claims to do so. It is not comprised of the leading scientists of the day. In fact, it is a men’s organization (of the 75 names at its web site, only two are women. Of the 75, only 9 are listed in the field of science, but there are 12 in law, 13 in philosophy, 5 in theology, and representatives medicine (1), economics, publishing , foreign policy. There is no one on the staff, in residence, with a degree in one of the fields of science. No one in biology. In fact the only science-related person is Stephen Meyer, director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. The Center “supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design;” however there has not been ONE paper published in a scientific and refeered journal relating to intelligent design. Not one!

The Discovery Insitute links visitors to a paper published by Meyer that was published in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. However, the COUNCIL OF THE BIOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF WASHINGTON has a statement on its website that says that Meyer’s paper was published without review by any associate editor; while the editor Richard V. Sternberg handled the entire review process. At the website, it further states that “The Council, which includes officers, elected councilors, and past presidents, and the associate editors would have deemed the paper inappropriate for the pages of the Proceedings because the subject matter represents such a significant departure from the nearly purely systematic content for which this journal has been known throughout its 122-year history.” In fact, The Council endorses a resolution on ID published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (), which observes that there is no credible scientific evidence supporting ID as a testable hypothesis to explain the origin of organic diversity.

The letters to the editor, and editorials written by representatives of the Discovery Institute consititute nothing more than blatant propaganda about their claim that I.D. is a scientific concept. Not only has the Discovery Institute not discovered anything in the field of science, it has nothing to offer students, teachers or administrators who are truly interested in improving science education.

The Decision on Intelligent Design: What did Judge Jones Really Say?

As I indicated in the previous post on this Blog, Judge John Jones, a federal judge (a Republican, and appointed by George W. Bush, in his first term, not only rejected the teaching of intelligent design in science classes, but rebuked the Dover, PA school board, and the perpetuators of Intelligent Design, especially the law firm representing the defendants in the case, and the authors of intelligent design texts and materials.

Major newspapers covered the story today. The New York Times reported, Issuing Rebuke, Judge Rejects Teaching of Intelligent Design. The Atlanta Journal ran the story as the lead article “INTELLIGENT DESGIN FLUNKS.” And USA Today ran the article as the lead piece entitled “Intelligent Design is Religious, Judge Says.”

What did the court really conclude? The Judge’s ruling is contained in a 139 page report, and I decided to look at the conclusions. Below you will find the conclusions/summary of the ruling. I’ve broken it up into six parts, and have labeled each part, followed by an excerpt from the report.

Conclusion:

1. ID violates the Establishment Clause
“The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board’s ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID 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. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.”

2. Evolution theory is imperfect, but…
“To be sure, Darwin’s theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.”

3. Citizens poorly served by Board of Education
“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID 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 ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom. ”

4. Not an Activitist Court, but Activist Ill-Informed Board & National Law Firm
“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 ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. ”

5. Innane Decision of the Board
“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.”

6. ID is not science, therefore is out of science class to preserve separation of church and state
“To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID.”

Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design in Dover, PA Case

In what might become a landmark case in the cultural wars in science education, Judge John Jones ruled that teaching “intelligent design” would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. In this Blog, I have written about this case, and other’s that impinge of the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In the Dover, PA case, which was heard last fall in Jones’ court, the advocates of “intelligent design” challenged the teaching of evolution in the Dover schools, and suggested that science teachers read a statement questioning evolution, and directly inserting the teaching of intelligent design in biology classes. Judge Jones, in his 139 page ruling stated that “We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.”

The ruling is important because at the heart of the case was whether or not “intelligent design” was a scientific theory, or a religious belief. At the trial, advocates for each side presented their case. However, in his ruling, the Judge not only took the Dover School Board to task, but acused several of the Board members of lying about their views under oath.

Interestingly, Judge Jones sent a warning to those who claim that the trial was being held in an “activist judge’s” environment. He made it clear that his court is not an activist court. The real activitsts in this case was the national group and authors of intelligent design books and papers, none of which have been reviewed favorably by any science group. Their motives have been one-sided, and that is to figure out a way to go around the First Amendment.

There is also a challenge here for the science education community, and that has to do with the nature of science teaching. Are our students challenged in our science classes to learn how to develop theories to explain observations and informtion that they might assemble themselves, thereby being directly involved in “doing science?” Much of of the content of science classes has to do with “learning about science” in contrast to “doing science.” The “learning about science” paradigm is driven by our science standards, and the beliefs of what science teachers think is their role in the teaching of science. Telling students in a science class that a theory is explanation of observations and facts will not, in the long run, help students understand science. Students need to be involved in the process of doing science to gain an understanding and appreciation of the scientific process.

Evolution back in court in Georgia!

“Evolution” stickers are back in court, and I am back online. I had been on trip to England. And there in England, on every £10 (pound) note was a picture of Charles Darwin (replacing the other Charles, Charles Dickens). All I could think of was what would happen in the USA if we put Darwin’s picture on a $10 note? Upon arrival home, I learned that the Cobb County, GA (where I live) school board is back in a Federal Appeals court, appealing Judge Cooper’s order to remove stickers that were placed on all life science and biology texts in Georgia’s second largest school district. The stickers were removed last school year from all of the books, but the school board has resisted accepting the Judge’s ruling, and is now appealing the case. A group of science advocates calling themselves Georgia Citizens for Integrity in Science Education expressed concern about the proceedings on the first day of the appeals hearing. Apparently one of the judges took the lawyers for the defendants to task, and according to “court watchers” this was not a good sign. As in many of the cases involving evolution, the paucity of understanding the nature of a scientific theory surfaces. Evolution is considered “just a theory” and is therefore less credible than say gravity or plate tectonics. In the field of science however, this is not the case. Theories are explanations of scientific facts and observations, and in the case of evolution, we might say that no theory has been scrutinized more than evolution.

About 25 years ago I formed a group of Georgia citizens. We were small. We were concerned about the emergence of “creation theory” as an alternative or equal partner (equal time was the concept) with evolution. We called the group “GO-APE” (Georia Ontological Association for the Preservation of Evolution). We went to meetings. We shared literature about teaching evolution in science classes. It was a time when evolutionary teaching was being challenged by creation theory. The advocates of creation theory made a lot of progress in impacting local schools, and in impacting state science standards. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it. Back then our answer was GO-APE!