I have (finally) read the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District opinion, in which the court found, among other things, that intelligent design is not science. (The opinion was entered on December 20, 2005, and can be found at 400 F. Supp. 2d 707.)
This will be a long post, for which my apologies.
What the School Board Did
The Dover Area School District is located in south-central Pennsylvania, in a rural region that includes the historic city of York. In Oct.-Nov. 2004, the District's Board adopted a policy under which teachers of ninth-grade biology in the District would be required to read to their students a prepared statement about evolution and ID.
The statement, which is too long to be repeated here, essentially says: State law requires that we teach you "Darwin's Theory of Evolution"; "Darwin's Theory" is a theory, not a fact; there are "gaps" in the theory "for which there is no evidence"; ID is "an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view"; if you want to learn more about ID, we have made the "reference book" Of Pandas and People available to you; you are encouraged to keep an open mind; "discussion of the Origins of Life" is up to you and your families.
The teachers were told to read this statement to their biology students in Jan. 2005. The teachers refused, and so school administrators visited each class to read the statement. That performance was repeated in June 2005 (with minor changes to the statement that did not affect its basic import).
Parents of several students in the ninth grade or lower grades in the District sued the District and the Board on the grounds that the Board's "ID Policy" violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania state constitution. The parents were represented mainly by the ACLU of Pennsylvania. The District and the Board were represented mainly by the Thomas More Law Center, a "public interest law firm" that (I believe) specializes in opposing abortion.
The case was heard in the federal district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The trial lasted six weeks and was heard only by the judge, without a jury, which is why we an opinion setting forth findings of fact and legal reasoning. (One of my questions about this case is why the defendants didn't demand a jury trial. I purposely didn't do any Googling before writing this, because I don't want to risk confusing what the opinion actually says with whatever I might read on the Net.)
The Court's Reasoning
The opinion, which takes up 60 pages in the printed reporter, is highly entertaining. I can't do justice to it here. I'll just focus on the standard the court applied and the main reasons for its holding.
The court applied two tests in deciding whether the ID Policy violated the Establishment Clause: the endorsement test and the purpose test. (The purpose test is one of three alternative parts of the so-called Lemon test, which is named after a Supreme Court case. One part of the Lemon test was not argued by the plaintiffs, and the third part was essentially identical to the endorsement test.)
1. The Endorsement Test
The endorsement test is intended to determine whether the government's action showed favoritism to one religion over another or to religion generally over non-religion. In applying the test, the court examines what message the government's action conveys to a reasonable, objective observer who is familiar with the action, its origins, the history of the community, and the broader social and historical context.
Because the Board directed its statements to both the ninth-grade students and the general community, the court applied the test both from the viewpoint of a reasonable, objective ninth-grader and a reasonable, objective adult. (In practice, there wasn't much difference between the two analyses.)
The court found that an objective observer familiar with the background would know that ID is a Creationist and religious strategy that developed from earlier forms of Creationism, would view the statement that was read to the ninth-grade biology students as a strong official endorsement of religion, and would also view the Board's public communications announcing the ID Policy as a strong endorsement of a religious view.
The ID Policy therefore violated the Establishment Clause under the endorsement test.
2. Sidebar: Whether ID Is Science
The court made a rather thin effort to explain why it needed to decide this issue. It's not really clear from the opinion that this needed to be addressed in order for the ID Policy to be found unconstitutional. However, I think the court went there because (having listened to six weeks of testimony, including a lot from expert witnesses on both sides) the court really felt it understood the issue and hoped to put it to bed (in its legal aspects) by providing a thorough examination of it.
The court found that, even though ID may be true, it is not science. It found that ID "fails on three different levels": it "violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation"; it employs a "contrived dualism" that maintains that any flaws in evolutionary theory equal support of ID; and the flaws it claims to have found in evolutionary theory "have been refuted by the scientific community."
3. The Purpose Test
The purpose test is intended to determine whether the government's primary purpose in the challenged action was to advance a religion or religion generally. In applying this test, the court looks at almost any admissible evidence that sheds light on what the government's purpose was.
This, for me, was the most interesting part of the opinion. It sheds light on small-town politics and man-in-the-street American religiosity. The court spends 15 pages going through the events leading up to the adoption and carrying out of the ID Policy.
Basically, the chair of the Board, Bonsell, began agitating among the other eight Board members for a return to religion in the District's schools as soon as he joined the Board, in late 2001. His main ally in this was the chair of the Board's Curriculum Committee, Buckingham. Four of the Board members allowed themselves to be overawed by Bonsell and Buckingham. The three remaining members opposed the ID Policy.
Bonsell was very concerned that the high-school biology teachers were teaching things inconsistent with young-Earth Creationism. He therefore began pressuring the teachers not to talk about the origins of humans. Ultimately, he and Buckingham refused to authorize the purchase of standard biology textbooks (which included a section on evolution) in order to pry concessions from the teachers to watch a Creationist documentary and to promise to mention Creationism in their classes. Ultimately, Bonsell and Buckingham got six members of the Board to approve the ID Policy.
It was clear from the testimony that Bonsell and Buckingham pushed the ID Policy for religious reasons and that the other Board members who voted for it went along without bothering to understand the issues involved. The Board did not seek any advice from authorities on science education and disregarded the opposition offered by the science teachers in the District. (I was actually quite impressed by the science teachers' dedication to job to teach real science.)
The court was particularly exercised about the fact that both Bonsell and Buckingham were caught lying under oath. (Among the things they lied about was that copies of the Pandas book, a pro-ID work, was bought for the District with money raised by an appeal of Buckingham to the congregation where he attended church.) The judge didn't mince words in calling them liars.
The court entered an order permanently enjoining the District from implementing the ID Policy and from requiring teachers to "disparage the scientific theory of evolution" and to refer to ID. The court also issued a declaratory judgment that the plaintiffs' federal and state constitutional rights had been violated. Finally, it ordered the defendants to pay the plaintiffs' legal fees (which I'm sure were hefty).
All in all, a fascinating decision, well worth reading.