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Evolution Debate in Pennsylvania (1-18-06)

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Recent Action

On December 20, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III barred the Dover, PA school district from suggesting intelligent design as an alternative theory to evolution. Judge Jones wrote a critical 139-page opinion in Kitzmiller et al. versus the Dover Area District et al. that includes a definition of science, a description of how scientists work and an explanation of the differences between intelligent design and science. He wrote "The overwhelming evidence is that Intelligent Design is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism and not a scientific theory," The breadth of Jones' decision will make it very difficult for intelligent design proponents to win legal victories in any future cases. The Dover Area School District, which has 8 new members after the November 8 election removed proponents of intelligent design from the board said they do not plan to appeal this decision. On January 4, the Dover school board rescinded the policy of presenting the intelligent design alternative to students.

Intelligent design proponents dismissed the Jones' decision as inappropriate and biased. Former Dover school board member, William Buckingham, responded to the Associated Press that "I'm still waiting for a judge or anyone to show me anywhere in the Constitution where there's a separation of church and state." He added "We didn't lose; we were robbed" The Discovery Institute issued a press release stating that "The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific theory and even prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate,…" The Discovery Institute intends to continue its efforts to show that intelligent design is science even though it is not.

The full text of Judge Jones' decision is available at: http://news.findlaw.com/hdocs/docs/educate/ktzmllrdvr122005opn.pdf

See "The Constitutional Debate over Teaching Intelligent Design in Public Schools" by Anne Marie Lofaso, published in December 2005 by the American Constitution Society for a brief and useful discussion of the differences between science and intelligent design and a summary of legal issues. http://www.acslaw.org/pdf/Intelligent_Design_White_Paper.pdf

Previous Action

The Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover trial in Dover, Pennsylvania concluded on November 2. The case pitted 11 parents against the Dover school board. The parents objected to a statement read by school administrators before the beginning of biology classes, which stated that evolution is controversial and intelligent design is an acceptable alternative theory. The judge will announce his decision in January 2006 and although both sides have threatened to appeal, recent elections may negate further litigation.

On Tuesday, November 8, 8 of 9 Dover school board members, who supported teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution were ousted in local elections. The new members all support the teaching of evolution without controversy and are less likely to appeal the judge's decision, should he agree with the 11 parents who brought the suit against the school district. This may mean the end of the controversy in Dover at least until the next elections. One of the new school board members, Bernadette Reinking, told the New York Times: "I think voters were tired of the trial, they were tired of intelligent design, they were tired of everything that this school board brought about." (12/05/05)

Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover, has continued through the month of October, and it is likely that the trial will last longer than scheduled, possibly into mid-November. The trial received the most attention in the press when the lead science witness for the defendents, Lehigh University Biochemistry professor Michael Behe, testified on October 17, 18, and 19. Behe's arguments rested primarily on the idea of "irreducible complexity", which suggests that many biochemical structures are so complex that they could not have formed through natural selection. Behe also argued that intelligent design is based on physical evidence and is therefore distinct from creationism, although he admitted that intelligent design does not propose a step-by-step mechanism for the assemblage of complex structures. At one point during cross-examination Behe acknowledged that under his broad definition of science astrology would fit as neatly as intelligent design.

Other important witnesses for the defense included Steve Fuller, a sociology professor from Warwick University in England, and former Dover School Board Member Bill Buckingham. Fuller, who studies the philosophy of science, argued that because new ideas regarding evolution are not taken seriously in mainstream science, the only way for the idea to gain acceptance is through "new recruits." Fuller also suggested that scientists should have an "affirmative action" plan to assist new ideas in competing with dominant paradigms. Buckingham's testimony hinged on whether or not he raised funds at his church to purchase copies of Of Pandas and People, a book that explains intelligent design, for Dover schools. "I said there is a need, if you want to donate that's fine," Buckingham testified, but he also emphasized that he never directly asked for money. Buckingham's testimony contradicts an earlier deposition he made saying he did not know where the money for the books came from.

In another recent development, Judge John E. Jones, who is presiding over the trial, struck an amicus brief filed by the Discovery Institute. The judge said that the brief was a way for the institute to enter intelligent design proponent Stephen Meyer's testimony into the record "without opening themselves up to the scrutiny of cross-examination." Tensions have grown over the past month between the Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing the defendents, over the institute's refusal to take part in the trial. At an October 21 panel at the American Enterprise Institute, Dover lead attorney Richard Thompson and Discovery vice-president Mark Ryland argued over whether or not the Discovery Institute had encouraged teaching intelligent design in public school classrooms. Thompson alleged that an institute publication encouraged school boards to include design theory in the classroom, something Ryland denied. A week later, outside the courthouse in Harrisburg, Thompson said his ability to build a case had been hurt by the Discovery Institute's strategy of backing off in the face of criticism.

Earlier in the month several scientists testified for the plaintiffs, including Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian. Padian cited several examples of how the fossil record contradicts the book Of Pandas and People, which is mentioned as a reference on intelligent design by the Dover School Board's statement. One of Padian's examples was the recent discovery of anthracotheres, a land-dwelling ancestor of whales and hippopotami. Design proponents have argued that the lack of transitional fossils between whales and other mammals is a problem for the theory of evolution. Questioned about scientific controversy over the theory of punctuated equilibrium, Padian replied, "That’s a great question. While it may raise questions about the mechanism of evolution, it doesn’t contradict the idea of common descent." Other witnesses for the plaintiffs included biology professors Brian Alters and Kenneth Miller, law professor Barbara Forrest, and Dover high school science teachers.

It is possible that the case could end up in the Supreme Court through the appeal process. Transcripts, web casts and daily updates on the trial are available from a special web page set up by the National Center for Science Education. (11/1/05)

On September 26, 2005, the case against the Dover Area School District commenced in Harrisburg, PA. Last year the Dover Area School District in Pennsylvania adopted a requirement that school administrators deliver a statement warning students that evolution is a theory among many and pointing them towards an intelligent design theory for alternative reading. Eleven parents were joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Union for the Separation of Church and State in a lawsuit against the school district, arguing that the directive is an attempt to bring religion into science classrooms. The Dover Area School District is being represented pro bono by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm based in Michigan. The case, Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover, is being heard without a jury in Harrisburg by U.S. District Judge John Jones III, whom President Bush appointed to the bench in 2002.

Professor Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, was the plaintiffs' main expert witness and the only person to take the stand on the opening day of the trial. "To my knowledge, every single scientific society that has taken a position on this issue has taken a position against intelligent design and in favor of evolution," he said, according to New York Times and Washington Post reports. "Scientific theories are not hunches," he added. "When we say 'theory,' we mean a strong, overarching explanation that ties together many facts and enables us to make testable predictions." Miller also pointed out several "systematic" instances of outdated or skewed scientific facts within the pro-Intelligent Design text, Of Pandas and People, suggested by Dover administrators as alternative reading.

The Discovery Institute, the leading think tank promoting intelligent design, submitted a statement before the trial in which the institute disagreed with the Dover School Board policy to try to distance itself from a case that is likely to be decided as religious interference and unlikely to make Intelligent Design look more like a science than religion. The institute stated, "Misguided policies like the one adopted by the Dover School District are likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community." Furthermore, the institute said, judges should not be telling scientists "what is legitimate scientific inquiry and what is not." The institute's website www.evolutionnews.org provides daily news about the institute's views of misrepresentation of Intelligent Design in the court proceedings. (10/3/05)

A bill to promote intelligent design was introduced to the Pennsylvania State House Representatives on March 16, 2005. The bill, HB 1007, would amend the State Public School Code of 1949 to include a section entitled "Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth," which would allow school boards to approve the teaching of intelligent design in lessons on evolution. "Upon approval of the board of directors, any teacher may use supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design," the bill reads. The bill does not provide a definition of intelligent design, but says that teachers may not, when teaching the theory, "stress any denominational, sectarian, or religious belief." According to the National Center for Science Education, the bill has met criticism from Pennsylvania scientists and the director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who remarked, "while this bill seeks to advance an anti-science agenda, we should view the introduction of this legislation as a golden opportunity to remind our legislators why it is so important that all Pennsylvania's public school students learn good science." (4/7/05)

Members of the Biology Department at Shippensberg University in Pennsylvania sent a letter to the Dover Area School Board expressing opposition to a decision last October to include Intelligent Design in the biology curriculum. In the letter, the biology professors argued that Intelligent Design is a "philosophical argument" that evades the scientific method because it directly implies the existence of an un-knowable "Intelligent Designer." The letter was written by Assistant Professor Pablo Delis and signed by 15 other faculty members as an expression of solidarity with Dover High School biology teachers, who refused to enforce the curriculum change in January. Dr. Delis wrote, "administrators or teachers enacting this modification of the curriculum are presenting students with misinformation about the content and process of science." (2/10/05)

In a letter to the Dover Area School District superintendant Dr. Richard Nilsen on January 6th, all but one teacher in the Dover Senior High School science department stated their refusal to read the four-paragraph disclaimer about evolution in front of their classes, as mandated late last year by the School District. In December, the biology curriculum was updated to include a clause requiring teachers to make students "aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design." The disclaimer, to be read at the start of the evolution unit in biology classes, refers to evolution as "theory, not fact" and offers students a reference book on Intelligent Design, called Of Pandas and People. The teachers refused to read the disclaimer on the grounds that it violated their professional integrity as established by the Pennsylvania's Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators. The teachers wrote: "...students will inevitably (and understandably) believe that Intelligent Design is a valid scientific theory, perhaps on par with the theory of evolution. That is not true. To refer the students to Of Pandas and People as if it is a scientific resource breaches my ethical obligation to provide them with scientific knowledge that is supported by recognized scientific proof or theory." Due to a pending lawsuit over the science curriculum filed by Dover parents, the school board agreed to the teachers' request, and charged school administrators with the task of reading the disclaimers. (1/21/05)

On December 14, eleven parents from Dover, Pennsylvania -- represented by the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP --filed suit in federal court to overturn the "intelligent design" policy of the Dover Area School Board. The plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District argue that teaching intelligent design -- which consists of discredited creationist criticisms of evolution, which are supposed to lead to the conclusion that supernatural intervention by an "intelligent designer" must have been responsible for the history of life -- is government establishment of religion when taught as science in a public school science class. Vic Walczak, attorney for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, said that "Teaching students about religion's role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," at the press conference announcing the suit. He added, "Intelligent design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious creationism back into public school science classes."

Reaction to the complaint was swift. A trenchant editorial in the York Dispatch began by observing, "The intelligent design/creationist clique on the Dover Area School Board now have the national media attention they've been angling for -- and so much for their mandated responsibilities to the students and district residents," and went on pointedly to describe the procedure for running for school board. Angie Yingling, a member of the Dover Area School Board who initially voted for the policy but later reversed her position and threatened to resign over the policy, told the Associated Press, "Anyone with half a brain should have known we were going to be sued." The Discovery Institute issued a press release calling on the board to withdraw and rewrite its policy. But Richard Thompson, an attorney for the Thomas More Law Center, which describes itself as a "not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life," indicated that his firm would represent the Dover Area School District to defend the "intelligent design" policy. Speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, Thompson acknowledged that "religious implications" of "intelligent design," but expressed confidence in the prospects for a legal victory. NCSE's Nicholas Matzke took a different view, saying, "Evolution is great science and this intelligent design stuff is religiously motivated pseudo-science," adding, "it seems like a pretty clear-cut case to us."

For the San Francisco Chronicle's story on Dover, visit: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/12/15/MNGSQAC17R1.DTL

In a surprise move, a Pennsylvania school board recently voted to include "intelligent design" in the district's science curriculum. At its meeting on October 18th, the Dover Area School Board revised the science curriculum to include the following: "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of life will not be taught." The district is now apparently the first school district in the country to require the teaching of "intelligent design" -- a move that prompted two school board members to resign and that is likely, locals fear, to result in a lawsuit.

Casey Brown, a ten-year veteran of the school board who resigned over the vote, commented, "There seems to be a determination among some board members to have our district serve as an example; to flout the legal rulings of the Supreme Court, to flout the law of the land. They don't seem to care. I think they need to ask the taxpayers if they want to be guinea pigs," adding that the board has already spent almost one thousand dollars in legal expenses. The York Dispatch editorialized, "When it comes to including that mantra ["intelligent design"] as part of an official school curriculum it's a case of religious zeal playing with taxpayers money, and it's just plain wrong."

The National Center for Science Education's (NCSE) Executive Director Eugenie C. Scott told the York Daily Record, "Intelligent design is just a sham to get creationism into the curriculum," explaining that "even if [its advocates] haven't convinced the scientific community, they have been able to convince the politicians ... And that's too bad for the students in Dover." Concerned readers who are in, or who have family or friends in, the Dover, Pennsylvania, area are urged to get in touch with Nick Matzke (matzke@ncseweb.org) at NCSE.

For a story on the vote in the York Daily Record, visit: http://ydr.com/story/main/45864/. For further coverage on NCSE's web site, visit: http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/news/2004/PA/39_a_dubious_first_for_intellige_10_21_2004.asp (10/22/04)

Sources: American Insitute of Biological Sciences Public Policy Report, National Center for Science Education, National Science Teachers Association, York Daily Record, New York Times, Washington Post, and Dover Area School District website.

Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace and Katie Ackerly, AGI Government Affairs Staff, Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, and Peter Douglas, AGI/AAPG Fall Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on December 5, 2005


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