September 16, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

Both Sides Fear Court Ruling on Intelligent Design

“The stakes are high,” said Constance Holden in Science,1 and both sides in the Dover, Pennsylvania case would probably agree – with equal trepidation.  The ACLU is representing 11 parents who sued the Dover school board for ruling that intelligent design should be taught as an alternative to Darwinian evolution in their public high schools (05/27/2005).  (This policy was later reduced to having administrators read a one-minute statement to students in their classrooms—01/11/2005.)  The ACLU is arguing that “teaching ID is an unconstitutional establishment of religion,” and is supported by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the National Center for Science Education.
    Why would the secular scientific establishments fear the outcome, after a long string of successes in the courts?  Holden quotes ACLU lawyer Witold Walczak: “If we prevail, it’s not going to be a knockout punch… if we lose, … you’re going to see intelligent design taught in schools all across the country.”  To try to prevent a loss that “could be a disaster,” according to Holden, the ACLU has lined up 25 witnesses, including “experts in philosophy, theology, science education, and mathematics as well as two veterans of the ID wars, Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller and paleoanthropologist Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley.”
    ID proponents also have reason for concern.  The leading ID think tank, the Discovery Institute, does not advocate mandating the teaching of intelligent design, and tried to pre-empt the situation by advising the Dover school board against it.  “…they’re worried about a big court defeat,” in the words of a plaintiff counsel quoted by Holden.  Now that the suit has come, it puts them in a difficult position of defending the right for students to hear alternatives but not endorsing the action of the Dover board.  On advice of counsel, Stephen Meyer and William Dembski dropped out of the defense, leaving only Michael Behe and Scott Minnich to testify.  Miller senses the defense strategy is to try to present as small a target as possible.

1Constance Holden, “ID Goes on Trial This Month in Pennsylvania School Case,” Science, Vol 309, Issue 5742, 1796, 16 September 2005, [DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5742.1796].

It is indeed lamentable that a scientific dispute, one that should be aired in the open marketplace of ideas, may come down to the decision of one or a few judges.  Because courts do not generally have the kind of knowledge about these subjects to rule wisely, it becomes almost a matter of luck for either side, depending on which judge winds up on the bench.  Will the court be swayed by the sheer numbers of alleged experts, or by the force of the arguments?  If a judge rules that “ID is not science” will that make it so?  Scientific positions are supposed to be evaluated on the preponderance of evidence, not by majorities of experts or judges.
    Any parents, school board members, public officials, activists or writers interested in giving ID a chance should learn to be very careful in their approach.  Charging out with well-intentioned but misguided enthusiasm can do more harm than good.  The strategy that is likely to succeed in these matters is defensive, not offensive.  No one wants to hear authorities “mandating” anything – certainly not a position on a controversial issue.  What makes sense to courts, politicians, and the public is defending students’ rights against indoctrination.  The Darwinists have had unrestricted power to pour their philosophy into student heads without challenge.  A large majority in the public feels that is wrong.  Science is not supposed to be about indoctrination, but about critical thinking.  That is the strong point of the “teach the controversy” approach to the origins issue.  Progress in that strategy will bring much-needed fresh air into one of the most important issues facing the country.  It is likely to garner the most supporters willing to fight past the Darwinist gestapo to open the doors and windows.  Fresh air has tremendous healing potential.
Food for thought: Based on their actions and proposals, which side is apparently the most confident that an open and fair examination of the evidence will lead to vindication of their views?

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