|"Rev Dr" Lenny Flank
Joined: Feb. 2005
The Dover School District's treatment of Intelligent Design "Theory" depends upon two things; a written statement that is read to all students during class, and the availability of the ID textbook "Of Pandas and People". I would like to examine the Board's written statement, particularly in light of the recent ruling made by various judges (particularly Judge Cooper in Cobb County, GA) concerning the very similar "disclaimer stickers" that ID supporters have forced into school biology textbooks. I conclude that many of the reasons why the textbook stickers have been consistently ruled unconstitutional, will also apply to the Dover statement.
The Dover statement says:
"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part. Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations. Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves. With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments."(York Daily Record, January 8, 2005)
Let's look at this statement one piece at a time;
The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.
And now the Board will lay out its reasons for altering those standards, and adding something to the curriculum which is not required or tested by the Academic Standards . . .
"Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.
Much of this has already been covered in the Cobb ruling. Just like the Cobb "disclaimer stickers", the Dover statement makes lots of noise about evolution being problematic in some way ("gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence"). The Cobb judge wrote, on this point, "The Sticker also has the effect of implicitly bolstering alternative religious theories of origin by suggesting that evolution is a problematic theory even in the field of science. In this regard, the Sticker states, in part, that 'evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things' that should be 'approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered' . . . By denigrating evolution, the School Board appears to be endorsing the well-known prevailing alternative theory, creationism or variations thereof, even though the Sticker does not specifically reference any alternative theories."
All of this applies to the Dover statement. The statement has the effect (and, I think, the intent), solely of misleading students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community, and "denigrates" evolution in order to endorse the "alternative theory" of intelligent design.
And, despite the Board's rather transparent attempt to cover its butt by defining a "theory" in the scientific sense, the Dover statement also clearly attempts to maintain the same "evolution is a theory, not a fact" argument that already lost in Cobb County. "In this regard," says the Cobb County judge, "the Sticker states, in part, that 'evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things' . . . However, the evidence in the record and the testimony from witnesses with science backgrounds, including the co- author of one of the textbooks into which the Sticker was placed and Defendants' own witness, Dr Stickel, reflect that evolution is more than a theory of origin in the context of science. To the contrary, evolution is the dominant scientific theory of origin accepted by the majority of scientists."
Note too that the Dover statement specifically and clearly singles out evolution, and ONLY evolution, as worthy of special mention as "a theory" with "gaps". The Cobb Judge found similar focus in the Cobb sticker, and cited it as a reason why the statement is unconstitutional: "[T]he message communicated to the informed, reasonable observer is that the School Board believes there is some problem peculiar to evolution. In light of the historical opposition to evolution by Christian fundamentalists and creationists in Cobb County and throughout the Nation, the informed, reasonable observer would infer the School Board's problem with evolution to be that evolution does not acknowledge a creator."
"Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view.
Note that "Intelligent Design" is not identified as being "a theory", or even as scientific. It is just "an explanation that differs from Darwin's view" (it should be noted, though, that several Board memebrs have declared in despotions that they DO indeed consider intelligent design to be a scientific theory). I suspect this is a transparent attempt to try to avoid having to demonstrate in court that ID is a scientific theory, or has any scientific validity whatsoever. Of course, the statement that ID is just an EXPLANATION, and NOT identified as science, indicates that the Board is quite aware that it is NOT science but just religious objections to "Darwin's view", and that it is being cited in the classroom specifically and solely to bring attention to this non-scientific "explanation", for the sole and only reason of denigrating evolution in favor of an alternative. Which the Cobb judge has already ruled is illegal. Also, by citing evolution as "a theory" but NOT citing ID as "a theory", I think the board is deliberately trying to use the popular meaning of the word "theory" to attempt to case doubt on evolution and to give preference to the ID "alternative" -- evolution is just "a theory", but ID in contrast is "an explanation".
The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
This sentence is important, since the Thomas More Law Center has, in the press, taken to making the rather silly argument that the school is not "teaching" intelligent design, merely "mentioning" it. As a newspaper report puts it: "The attorney for the Dover Area School District said no one will be teaching intelligent design. . . The entire statement on the subject of intelligent design in next semester's ninth-grade biology class will take about a minute, said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing the district. And because intelligent design -- the concept that life is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, and therefore must have been created by an intelligent designer -- is only "mentioned," Thompson said; it's not being "taught." A news release issued last month by Dover's administration states that intelligent design will not be taught. Instead, teachers are to read a prepared statement and note that students can read "Of Pandas and People," a book about the concept. The news release goes on to state that Nilsen "has directed that no teacher will teach Intelligent Design, Creationism, or present his or her, or the Board's, religious beliefs."
The district's argument that they are not "teaching" ID, only "mentioning" it, is too patently silly to waste time on. I find it laughable that they plan on actually arguing this in court, with a straight face. However, since the Dover Board is not only making "Pandas" available to students, but is actually suggesting it for students to "gain an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves", it is crushingly clear that the Board's combined actions and statements represent an endorsement of "Pandas" and the "alternative" it embodies. Thompson's idiotic word games aside, it is illegal for school officials to endorse a religious view. Period. And by presenting "Pandas" as an "alternative" and making it available to students during class time, Dover is endorsing the religious view given within "Pandas".
"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.
If this applies to "any theory", one wonders why the board is not making similar statements to the class advising them to "keep an open mind" about the theory of gravity, or the germ theory of disease, or relativity theory, or the quantum theory of physics. Once again, the board makes it very clear that its admonition to "keep an open mind" is intended to apply only to a particular "theory" -- evolution --- to which they are offering a religious "alternative". All of this is already covered by the Cobb ruling.
The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families.
This part is interesting. Why on earth would the school district want to leave matters of science education to "individual students and their families"? Does the school board seriously think that parents throughout its district are scientifically literate enough to discuss scientific investigation of the origins of life with their kids? Of course, the Board's admonition to students to "ask your parents" makes perfect sense if what the Board really wants is for parents to tell their kids about their RELIGIOUS feelings concerning the origins of life. The board seem to be arbitrarily banning the teaching of a particular area of scientific research -- the origins of life --- solely because of its religious objections to it, or, as the Supreme Court put it, as "an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, taken literally." (US Supreme Court, Epperson v Arkansas, 1968). Not only does the Dover School Board seem to be blotting out a particular theory for no known scientific or academic reason, but it seems to be specifically and purposefully giving its endorsement and support to the religious beliefs of parents concerning this scientific matter. Indeed, given its expressed hostility to evolution and its expressed endorsement of the "intelligent design alternative", the board seems to be giving its official blessing to the religious beleifs of just a PARTICULAR SEGMENT of those parents --- those who reject evolution on religious grounds. I would like to see the Board argue how this does not constitute an endorsement of religion . . . .
As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments."
And here, the Board makes clear what its real aim is, or rather, is not. Despite its stated "secular purpose" -- "preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessements" -- the board makes it very clear that this is NOT its real purpose. After all, ID "theory" is not covered in any Pennsyvlania standards and does not appear on any assessement test, so it is difficult to see how making students "aware of" ID helps them pass standards assessements in any way shape or form. Indeed, by deflecting attention and classroom time AWAY from evolution (the board, after all, wants the "Pandas" book to be made available INSIDE THE CLASSROOM), the board's ID efforts DETRACT from the ability of students to achieve proficiency in the state's standards assessments -- which test students' knowledge of evolution but do not test for profiency in Intelligent Design. This, also, is covered in the Cobb decision: "While there may be an educational benefit to students spending time learning the general difference between a theory and a fact as a scientific matter, teachers have less time to teach the substance of evolution. Thus, although evolution is required to be taught in Cobb County classrooms as a technical matter, distracting tangential issues effectively dilute evolution instruction to the benefit of the anti- evolutionists who are motivated to advance their religious beliefs."
It seems that the Board's stated purpose here, to help students pass assessements, is, in the words of the Supreme Court's Aguillard decision, "a sham". The Board's actions make it clear that they have no intent at all of teaching ID to produce greater proficiency in meeting the testing standards for evolution. Indeed, the entire statement read to the class makes it obviously apparent that the Board's only intent is to denigrate evolution in favor of a religious "alternative", and to "dilute evolution instruction to the benefit of the anti-evolutionists" and their "religious beliefs".
On top of all these fatal legal factors, the Dover School Board is also hampering itself by its own actions, by doing such crushingly stupid actions as hiring a Christian law firm to argue that ID doesn't have anything to do with religion, and selecting Discovery Institute bigshots as witnesses when DI is already on record as declaring that ID "theory" shouldn't be taught in schools.
This case will be SUCH a slam dunk.
Editor, Red and Black Publishers