It's hard to believe it's already five years since the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial was underway at the Federal courtroom in Harrisburg, Pa. There, 11 parents of high school students successfully challenged the attempt of the school board's creationist majority to require that intelligent design be taught as an alternative to evolutionary theory.
Judge John E. Jones III agreed with the plaintiffs when he ruled on Dec. 20, 2005 that the school board's action, to have students informed that evolution was not established and that intelligent design should be considered, was unconstitutional pursuant to the establishment clause, the imposition of a religious proposition into a public school science class.
Ever since, the Discovery Institute, the conservative organization that actively promotes intelligent design for ideological reasons, has been trying to spin the events surrounding the trial and to denigrate the judge's decision.
For a recent example, in the spring of this year, Lehigh professor of biochemistry, Michael Behe, a Discovery Institute Fellow who was a star witness for the defense during the trial, made the claim that the judge was simply not competent to understand what was truly at stake in the case.
In a May interview for the Salem News with a friendly correspondent, Behe was asked whether Judge Jones was impartial and unbiased:
No, I don't think Judge Jones' verdict was objective and unbiased. Actually, I don't think the judge understood any of the academic arguments that were presented in his courtroom, whether science, philosophy or theology, or whether presented by the plaintiffs or defendants. If you examine the court records, you see that when the judge's ruling discusses the nature of science, the judge's opinion was essentially copied from a document given to him by the plaintiffs lawyers. There is no evidence he himself understood what he was copying.
This is odd. The judge did not understand the arguments? He blindly copied and pasted the plaintiffs' attorney's case into his own?
The latter charge was aptly shredded quite some time ago by science bloggers Timothy Sandefur, Ian Musgrave and Ed Brayton among others. But Jones was asked about it himself in an interview he gave to Jane Gitschier in 2008 for the Public Library of Science (emphasis added):
Gitschier: I want to address a very specific part of your Memorandum Opinion, which is defining science. What were you trying to do here?
Jones: First of all, both sides presented ample scientific testimony, and they asked me to decide that.
Gitschier: Both parties wanted you to address the question of what is science?
Jones: Well, not what is science, but whether intelligent design is science. Why else would they have presented all those expert witnesses?
Gitschier: Do they explicitly say that?
Jones: Sure they do.
Gitschier: Is that part of the original suit?
Jones: Yes, part of the analysis--the second prong of the Lemon test and the collapsed endorsement test --is the effect on the intended recipients. My view, and I'll always believe that I was right about this until somebody convinces me otherwise, is that if you're going to measure the effect of a particular policy, in this case juxtaposing intelligent design with evolution, on the intended recipients, you have to delve into what the policy is about. What was it about? It was about intelligent design. And to try to determine the effect on the recipients you have to determine what does that concept or phrase stand for? Hence, we got into a search and examination of what exactly does ID say, what is its basis, what are its scientific bona fides or lack thereof. That opens the door for a determination of whether ID is in fact science. And that is what that part of the opinion was. People shouldn't mischaracterize it and say that I am the arbiter of what science is broadly. It's not what I wrote about in the opinion. I wrote about whether ID, as presented to me, in that courtroom from September to November of 2005, was science, and I said it was not.
Behe's claims in that Salem News interview get even stranger.
I regret the judge's decision, but nonetheless I think the school board elections in which the old board lost and a new board was installed is a reasonable example of democratic action. The big issue for many local residents was not what was taught in biology class in the local high school. Rather, it was the expense of the trial itself, which was over a million dollars.
The professor must have been confident no readers would bother to check the accuracy of this.
In fact, the school board was voted out several weeks before Jones even rendered his decision in December. The expense of the trial was not an issue, since the voters didn't know they were going to have to foot the bill. And the Thomas More Law Center represented the school board for free. The reason the creationists were voted off the board is because they had overstepped their authority, alienated and angered their neighbors.
Behe's comments might not amount to much more than a sore loser's take on the ballgame his side lost and a deliberate attempt to mislead readers about what actually happened. But the Discovery Institute has not been idle since Judge Jones's decision. Barbara Forrest, expert witness for the plaintiffs at the Dover Trial and a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, has shown that the meddlers from Seattle helped the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) under the Rev. Gene Mills to craft an education act, signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal in 2008. This act effectively allows Louisiana School boards, with the guidance of the LFF, to sabotage the teaching of evolution in the public school classroom, all under the guise of "academic freedom."
It's no longer about intelligent design, which the think tank knows is a sure loser. Now, it's about undermining the teaching of evolution any way they can. Whether this leads to a new Dover-style trial remains to be seen. But five years after Dover, the battle for science education in U.S. public schools is not over.