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.

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.