Recently I watched NOVA’s show on the 2005 Dover Intelligent Design trial. The school board in Dover, Pennsylvania was accused of promoting Intelligent Design instruction in the classroom, a move which, the plaintiffs claimed, violated the separation of church and state First Amendment clause. The show’s producers were decidedly one-sided in that they clearly favored evolution over intelligent design. This did not distract me from seeing beyond the bias. Enough facts are presented to get a good idea of what really happened.

There is so much that can be said about the trial. Nevertheless, I limit my comments to three objective opinions.

1. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU, presented a strong case for evolution. It clearly demonstrated that evolution is science and that it belongs in the classroom. Even though I don’t agree with some things Ken Miller says, he is very knowledgeable and was a very strong witness for the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also did a good job of examining the ID proponents, in particular Michael Behe, and of revealing the true motive underlying the Dover school boards efforts to get ID into the classroom (# 3 below).

2. The defense, represented by the Thomas-Moore Law Center, screwed up. They did not present an adequate defense of ID. Why not? Because ID heavy hitters from the Discovery Institute did not testify, although they were supposedly asked to do so.  The defense of ID was left to a few scholars and lawyers who could not adequately present and defend ID. Imagine the LDS church being put on trial for being a cult. Rather than sending apostles to defend the LDS faith as being a religion, we send a few knowledgeable lay members to defend the church. This is what the ID movement did. The ID heavy hitters stayed away – a colossal mistake.

3. The federal judge, John Jones, got it right on one count and screwed up on another. I think the judge correctly ruled that the Dover School board was trying to get elements of creationism into the classroom. Doing so violates a 1987 Supreme Court ruling banning creationism in schools. From the NOVA presentation it is fairly evident that some board members were sneaking creationism into schools on the back of ID. I am pleased that the judge put a stop to efforts to promote clandestine creationism.

Unfortunately, however, allowing creationists to advocate for ID led to a mischaracterization of ID as being unscientific. The Discovery Institute should have seen this coming. They should have gotten involved and made sure that ID was not mixed with creationism, that ID was not proven ‘guilty’ by association. They did not. Discovery Institute IDers should have testified and, if necessary, distanced themselves from the actions of the school board members. They did not. They stayed home.

The failure of the Discovery Institute to defend ID led to the judge’s mistaken ruling that ID is not scientific. The judge attempted to settle the question of whether ID is scientific by applying some conveniently prepackaged demarcation criteria. While demarcation criteria like falsification and empirical observation are important, what qualifies as scientific is largely driven by social forces within the scientific community, and these forces change over time. In the 17th century, Johannes Kepler’s astronomical observations led him to hypothesize that the moon caused tidal activity on earth. The scientific community, including the eminent Galileo, rejected this work and claimed it was unscientific. Back then the idea of something afar influencing tides on earth smacked of the occult and spiritualism. However, eventually Isaac Newton’s work on gravity changed the scientific community’s opinion of Kepler’s work – it was scientific.

In 2005 a federal judge had the audacity to rule by judicial fiat that ID is not science. He should have known better. The scientific community decides what is science, not a lawyer in robes.

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