A page from Darwin’s original manuscript of The Origin of Species, featured at the American Museum of Natural History
Judge John E. Jones III barred the teaching of intelligent design from the classrooms of Dover, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, December 20.
“As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom,” wrote Jones in his landmark 139-page decision.
Jones, a federal judge who was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, concluded that intelligent design is not science, as it permits supernatural causation. He argued that negative attacks on evolution by ID proponents have been refuted by the scientists.
“ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research,” he wrote.
Jones concluded that the teaching of intelligent design violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution, on the grounds that the listening audience—students and adults in the community—would perceive that the district was endorsing a particular religious view.
This ends a fight that began on October 18, 2004, when the Dover School Board voted that students should be made aware of “gaps” and “problems” in Darwin’s theory of evolution, and students should learn about other “theories of evolution” such as intelligent design. A month later, the board added a disclaimer to be read to ninth grade biology students. This disclaimer told students that Darwin’s theory of evolution is not a fact and pointed them to an intelligent design reference book, Of Pandas and People, if they wanted a more complete understanding. On December 14, 2004, eleven parents sued the Dover Area School District, challenging the constitutional validity of the October resolution.
In his decision, Jones harshly criticized the Dover School Board’s disclaimer as misrepresenting the status of evolution in the scientific community, causing students to doubt the validity of evolution without scientific justification and presenting a religious alternative masquerading as science.
Jones also pointedly denounced the Board members for their choice.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”
He also rebuked the Board members for repeatedly concealing their motives in promoting the teaching of intelligent design.
“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,” he wrote.
Predictably, advocates of intelligent design were not pleased with the outcome in Dover. The Discovery Institute, a prominent intelligent design think tank, issued a press release criticizing Jones’ opinion.
“The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won’t work,” said Dr. John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at the Institute.
Richard Dawkins, author and professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, expressed his pleasure at the decision in an email to Seed.
“Judge John Jones has dealt a fair blow for reason and true education, in the secular Enlightenment tradition of the Founding Fathers,” he said. “It is good to know that, in an otherwise dark time for this great republic, American justice is alive and well. The know-nothings of creationism should now retreat to their caves and let real science teachers get on with their job.”
Originally published December 20, 2005