Dover trial expert witnesses unite with the Discovery Institute to remove a philosophy course from a high school's curriculum.

Last month Judge John E. Jones III handed down a landmark decision in Dover, PA, in which he wrote that it is unconstitutional to suggest intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in a high school biology class. In his decision, Jones cited evidence that intelligent design is not science.

Right. ID isn’t science. We knew that all along. Then, a couse taught in a high school located in a conservative county north of Los Angeles put ID back in the classroom, this time under the guise of philosophy.

Yesterday, the California school district withdrew the class after several pro-evolution witnesses from the Dover trial lambasted the course’s merits. What made the face-off interesting was the position of the ID-touting Discovery Institute, whose pet theory had finally found a place in a classroom. The Institute also condemned the class, saying it misrepresented of intelligent design. For one brief shining moment, these opposing factions united against a common enemy and killed a course that might have seemed benign to both sides.

“Philosophy of Intelligent Design,” taught by special education teacher Sharon Lemburg at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, concerned “the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid,” according to the course description. The class offers ID as an alternative to evolution and purportedly presents “physical and chemical evidence” that the earth is thousands of years old—not billions, as science would have you believe.

The preliminary syllabus listed the titles of 24 videos Lemburg planned on presenting to the class, at least 19 of which were labeled as pro-creationism by Ken Hurst, a geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the school district. Lemburg also planned to invite five proposed speakers, two pro-evolution advocates, one “creation scientist,” and two professors from The Master’s College, a nearby Christian-fundamentalist institution. The two pro-evolution speakers are the aforementioned Hurst, who never agreed to the gig, and Francis Crick, the Nobel laureate who co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA. Crick passed away in 2004. Lemburg did not return an e-mail asking her to comment on her class.

The Discovery Institute, which tries to distance ID from creationism, saying the former is based on data and not scripture, is upset by the young-earth stance included in the course. The ID movement doesn’t take a position on the age of our planet. The Institute issued a letter to the superintendent, asking the school to “either reformulate the course by removing the young Earth creationist materials or retitle the course as a course not focused on intelligent design.”

While the Discovery Institute found itself aligned with evolution supporters, the pairing was purely out of coincidence. Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover trial, said she had little sympathy for the Discovery Institute’s concerns.

“They are reaping the benefits of their efforts,” she said, “and may they enjoy it.”

Forrest was more critical of the course’s portrayal of philosophy than its representation of intelligent design. She said because the class is dismissive of good science, it is also dismissive of good philosophy.

“Modern philosophy takes full account of the modern facts that science presents to us; we would be dishonest to do anything else,” Forrest said. “To the extent that philosophers concern themselves with science, they have to listen to what the scientists say to do philosophy in any honest kind of way.”

Forrest said religious topics are appropriate for a philosophy class, but the syllabus of this course indicates the teacher planned to present them dishonestly.

“You can teach about religious ideas in a comparative religion class; you can talk about religious ideas in a philosophy class&mdashthat’s what they’re for,” she said. “But this particular course is no such thing; this woman who is teaching this class has absolutely no concept of what philosophy is.”

Brian Alters, director of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University and another expert witness at the Dover trial, said Lumberg’s course taught students bad science under a false label.

“They’re going to discuss the ‘scientific, biological aspects’ of evolution and the ‘physical and chemical evidence’—that’s not in the realm for a philosophy class to be discussing, that’s the realm of a science class to be discussing,” he said. “It will engender scientific misconceptions among these students that then the science teachers, in their science courses, will have to handle.”

Alters added he would not be opposed to a truly balanced survey course addressing philosophies of religion and science.

A third Dover-trial witness, University of California Berkeley integrative biology professor Kevin Padian, said that if a philosophy course is going to criticize evolution, it has to be equally critical of the rest of science.

“You can’t take the idea and the science of evolution and rope it off from everything else; it exists in complete harmony with everything else in science,” he said. “You don’t demonize Darwin.”

Originally published January 18, 2006


Share this Stumbleupon Reddit Email + More


  • Ideas

    I Tried Almost Everything Else

    John Rinn, snowboarder, skateboarder, and “genomic origamist,” on why we should dumpster-dive in our genomes and the inspiration of a middle-distance runner.

  • Ideas

    Going, Going, Gone

    The second most common element in the universe is increasingly rare on Earth—except, for now, in America.

  • Ideas

    Earth-like Planets Aren’t Rare

    Renowned planetary scientist James Kasting on the odds of finding another Earth-like planet and the power of science fiction.

The Seed Salon

Video: conversations with leading scientists and thinkers on fundamental issues and ideas at the edge of science and culture.

Are We Beyond the Two Cultures?

Video: Seed revisits the questions C.P. Snow raised about science and the humanities 50 years by asking six great thinkers, Where are we now?

Saved by Science

Audio slideshow: Justine Cooper's large-format photographs of the collections behind the walls of the American Museum of Natural History.

The Universe in 2009

In 2009, we are celebrating curiosity and creativity with a dynamic look at the very best ideas that give us reason for optimism.

Revolutionary Minds
The Interpreters

In this installment of Revolutionary Minds, five people who use the new tools of science to educate, illuminate, and engage.

The Seed Design Series

Leading scientists, designers, and architects on ideas like the personal genome, brain visualization, generative architecture, and collective design.

The Seed State of Science

Seed examines the radical changes within science itself by assessing the evolving role of scientists and the shifting dimensions of scientific practice.

A Place for Science

On the trail of the haunts, homes, and posts of knowledge, from the laboratory to the field.


Witness the science. Stunning photographic portfolios from the pages of Seed magazine.

SEEDMAGAZINE.COM by Seed Media Group. ©2005-2015 Seed Media Group LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Sites by Seed Media Group: Seed Media Group | ScienceBlogs | Research Blogging | SEEDMAGAZINE.COM