It is time to take stock of what is going on in the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC) front in the wake of the events of the past week and to see what it might all mean. The federal trial about whether the Dover school board’s policy on IDC was constitutional ended on Friday, November 4. The judge has said that he will deliver his ruling before January. The lawsuit was triggered when the school board had ordered that at the beginning of ninth grade science classes, a statement would be made to students questioning Darwinian evolution and telling students to read a book called Of Pandas and People, many copies of which had been provided to the school. (I will discuss the legal issues involved in this case in a future posting.)
Then on November 8, the elections to the Dover school board resulted in all eight of the incumbent Republican members running for reelection, who all supported the IDC inclusion policy, being swept from office and replaced by a slate of eight Democratic candidates who had a platform that said that IDC would be shifted from the science class to an elective comparative religion class. (One of the winning candidates is also a plaintiff in the court case.) Needless to say, this complicates matters because even if the plaintiffs lose the case and the earlier school board’s decision is ruled constitutional, the new school board has the option of appealing the ruling to a higher court or, more likely, simply overturning the policy on their own to spare themselves further legal expense.
If the plaintiffs win and the IDC policy is declared unconstitutional (which is what I expect to happen), then it is not clear what the losing side can do. It is not clear if the losing school board members can even appeal the ruling since they are no longer have any official status, having lost the election.
Actually, there are few good legal options for the pro-IDC side in the Dover case. From the beginning, their case was weak. The policy they instituted was so problematical that even the people at IDC “headquarters” (the Seattle-based Center for Society and Culture operating out the Discovery Institute) thought it was problematic, called it a “misguided policy” and did not support this case and kept their distance, fearing that it would go down in flames, risking their carefully planned strategy. It was like planning a secret attack and the Dover school board was a crazy member of the assault team running out into the open yelling “Here we come!” and spoiling the element of surprise. Two of the IDC strategy stalwarts (William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer) withdrew as defense witnesses even before the trial began. The only major IDC figure to testify at the trial was Michael Behe, a biochemist at Lehigh University and author of the IDC bible Darwin’s Black Box. But even his testimony did not go over well, especially when he conceded under cross-examination that under the preferred IDC definition of science, even astrology could be classified as science and eligible to be taught in science classes. (See this summary of the trial fromThe Panda’s Thumb.)
To see why the IDC bigwigs were uneasy about the actions of their erstwhile Dover school board allies, you need to recall the history of IDC. In the early 1980’s the state legislatures of Louisiana and Arkansas passed laws mandating that whenever evolution was taught, so-called ‘creation science’ should be given equal time. This was challenged in the courts and in 1987, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that creationism was a religion and that these equal time laws violated the first amendment.
So it was back to the drawing board for the anti-Darwinists to figure out how to get religion and god back in the public schools and it was from this brainstorming that IDC was born. The first thing they did was to distance themselves (at least publicly) from the avowed creationists, although privately they are allies. The second thing was to strip all references to god from the IDC literature and instead refer to a vague and unspecified ‘intelligent designer’. By this strategy, they hoped to persuade the courts that IDC was not a religion, accompanied by copious winks and nudges to the faithful to reassure them that the intelligent designer was, in fact, god (though we now know that there is a competing theory that the intelligent designer is, in fact, Lord Voldemort).
This stealth strategy was trampled on clumsily by the Dover school board because they did not seem to get the memo about how to cover god’s fingerprints on their policy. The first problem was that the school board members had made many public statements about their religious intent in pushing their school policy, and these were matters of public record, reported in the local papers. The money to buy the books Of Pandas and People was raised in churches after appeals to the congregation by some school board members.
The book itself was also a problem. The book has been around a long time and in its earlier incarnation it freely used the word ‘creationism.’ After the 1987 Supreme Court setback, a ‘new’ edition of the book came out which seemed to differ from the earlier versions mainly in the fact that someone had used the ‘search and replace’ function of their word processor to remove all references to the word ‘creationism’ and replace it with ‘intelligent design.’
Such a thin disguise is unlikely to work. As I learned from a lawyer who legislated the earlier Louisiana case, judges do not simply look at the words of policies and laws to infer their intent. They also look at the historical record of the policies and the statements its advocates made in other forums. In other words, they look at the paper trail to work out intent. And in the Dover case, the paper trial is clear that the members of the school board who pushed this policy had religious reasons for doing so.
For these reasons, I expect that the judge will rule in favor of the plaintiffs and declare the Dover policy unconstitutional, especially since the lawyers for the plaintiffs seemed to have done a good job in the case.
But few things in life are certain and it will be interesting to see how the judge rules.
Defending the indefensible
The White House has begun a curious defense of its decision to attack Iraq. Cartoonist Tom Toles of the Washington Post captures the absurdity of the argument perfectly.