Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (2005)
Not thrilled that the state of Pennsylvania required the teaching and testing of students’ grasp of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board passed a measure requiring the ninth grade biology teachers to read a statement saying that Intelligent Design was an alternative account of the origin of life, and to let the students know that the ID book, Of Pandas and People, was available to them. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, eleven parents, including the eponymous Tammy Kitzmiller, sued for removal of this statement. The Thomas More Law Center took up the cause of the plaintiffs. The trial featured a range of disputing experts.
In the end, Judge John E. Jones sided with the ACLU, saying that the ID movement was really an agent of fundamentalist creationists, who wanted to use it as a “wedge” to get Bible indoctrination into the public schools. Besides, he argued, it wasn’t science at all, and so it had no place in the science classroom.
He held that true science shunned reference to the supernatural, that it insisted on empirically verifiable or falsifiable statements, and that “methodological naturalism” was the only way to go in speaking of origins. To open the door to ID would be to supplant science with the “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment.
In due course, Judge Jones was honored by the American Humanist Association with their religious liberty award, and by the Geological Society of America, which gave him their presidential medal. Not so impressed were conservative commentators, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Phyllis Schlafly . . . and distinguished philosopher Alvin Plantinga.
Plantinga said that the statement, “God has designed 800-pound rabbits that live in Cleveland” was “clearly testable, clearly falsifiable and indeed clearly false.”(1) So reference to God doesn’t disqualify a statement from empirical validity. Furthermore, statements of particular design are no more immediately confirmable or disposable than the claim that “there is at least one electron.” Rather, both are nested in broader conceptual schemes, which rise or fall as a package of understanding (or misunderstanding). And in this connection, ID is a serious player.
Plantinga went on to argue that the judge had succumbed to (or arrogated to himself the privilege of) arbitrary stipulation:
Suppose I claim all Democrats belong in jail. One might ask: Could I advance the discussion by just defining the word “Democrat” to mean “convicted felon”? If you defined “Republican” to mean “unmitigated scoundrel,” should Republicans everywhere hang their heads in shame? So this definition of “science” the judge appeals to is incorrect as a matter of fact because that is not how the word is ordinarily used. But even if the word “science” were ordinarily used in such a way that its definition included methodological naturalism, that still wouldn’t come close to settling the issue. The question is whether ID is science. That is not a merely verbal question about how a certain word is ordinarily used.
Of course, Jones had all the encouragement he needed to do this from the plaintiff’s “experts.” Indeed, this is a conceit widely held by materialistic scientists, as we see from this rare, candid statement by Harvard evolutionist, Richard Lewontin. The prof let this slip in a New York Review of Books book review back in 1997, and Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson brought it to light that same year in a First Things article:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter- intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.(2)
And we couldn’t let that happen, could we.
So the game is rigged, and Judge Jones was in on the scam, perhaps unwittingly, but certainly self-congratulatorily.
To show the arrogance of this understanding of science, I pose a forensic medicine case, one involving a dead jogger in Central Park. Though there are no signs of foul play, and it’s assumed to be an instance of heart failure, one detective has his doubts – and he’s right. An extremely clever assassin had insinuated a tiny, pin-prick, hard-to-detect-poison device in the runner’s left shoe, and a microscopic hole under the second toe ultimately reveals the entry lethal entry point. Though his colleagues laugh at him for his conspiracy theory, he persists, insisting that another party was involved. And in doing so, he doesn’t cease to be scientific.
That’s what the ID people are saying, in effect – that somebody was involved in engineering the circumstances before us. And, by the way, we’ll meet him one day. In fact, his existence makes the most sense of what we see before us, and the agnostic position seems to be the one requiring the most strain to maintain.
Of course, Judge Jones and Kitzmiller and the ACLU will disavow any interest addressing the existence of God and his sovereignty. They’re just standing up for the integrity of science. Never mind that revolutionary scientists from Newton to Leeuwenhoek to Mendel freely associated their work and findings with divine, “intelligent design.” They’ve moved beyond that to the high country of naturalistic insulation/isolation. (One wonders if they’d say “Shut up” to a brain surgeon who finds no tumor the day after the MRI had announced a golf-ball-sized malignancy, and then exclaims, “It’s a miracle. They said they were praying for one, but I didn’t think it was possible.” Would he have to turn in his scientific credentials on grounds of epistemological treason?)
One last thing: Judge Jones prides himself on uncovering an ID strategy of advancing biblical creationism by means of a “wedge” strategy. But so what? What business does he have judging the motives of the parties? Why couldn’t he just as well fault the plaintiffs for their ulterior interest in undermining belief in the Creator God? “Oh yes, they may dress up their atheism in fine talk of science and all that, but we know what they’re up to.” How would that fly? Not far. But that’s the sort of irrelevancy he entertains to the contrary. A sorry spectacle.
(2) Phillip E. Johnson, “The Unraveling of Scientific Materialism,” First Things, November 1997.