On the ropes

December 21, 2005

In coming out strongly against teaching intelligent design in Dover, Pa., schools, federal district judge John E. Jones III delivered a significant setback to efforts across the nation to pass off this new form of creationism as worthy of discussion in science classes. While the decision is not likely to end the debate, it sends an important signal to school boards that evolution is alive and well, but that intelligent design is on the ropes.

It was in 2004 that members of the Dover school board decided that ninth-grade biology students should be told that there are "gaps" in the theory of evolution. Students were directed to a book that explains intelligent design, the idea that aspects of the natural world are so complex that they must be attributed to a higher intelligence.

A group of parents challenged the policy in court as a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment or endorsement of religion. After a six-week trial that included an extensive defense of intelligent design, Judge Jones roundly rejected the idea that it is scientific.

He found ample historical support for the view that intelligent design is rooted in creationism and that, even according to the testimony of the expert witnesses for the school board defendants, it is basically a religious and not a scientific proposition. Citing a number of settled decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court against teaching creationism, Judge Jones - who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by President Bush - concluded that teaching intelligent design is also unconstitutional. As well, he defended evolution as science that is established and widely accepted.

For these and other reasons, Judge Jones was convinced that the Dover school board had not served its constituent schoolchildren well in adopting the policy, calling attention to the hidden religious agendas of some members. Dover voters had already come to that conclusion last month when they rejected for re-election all of the board members who had voted for the policy. The new school board members don't need to appeal this victory, so the reach of this ruling as precedent is unclear.

But we hope that intelligent design proponents in other parts of the country suffer the same fate as those in Dover - trounced at the polls and in court.

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