The Kitzmiller Decision

B&W is asking various rationalists, scientists, biologists, zoologists, philosophers and the like for their reactions to the Kitzmiller decision. New ones will be added as they come in, so keep reading.

Susan Haack


The question before Judge Jones, of course, was not whether “Intelligent Design Theory” should be taught in Dover public schools, but whether the School Board’s proposed “evolution disclaimer” is constitutional. His arguments on this point were, for me, a lesson in the complexities of Establishment-Clause jurisprudence. His belt-and-braces approach results in a convincing argument that the proposed evolution disclaimer constitutes an improper state endorsement of religion, and that both its purpose and its effect would be improperly to advance religion.

But what I have most admired in my reading so far is Judge Jones’s unremittingly common-sense scrutiny of the relevant facts: his comparison (following the testimony of plaintiffs’ expert Dr. Forrest) of pre- and post-Edwards versions of the ID text to which students were to be referred, Of Pandas and People, revealing unmistakably that though there had been changes in wording, there were no real changes in content – so that what the current version of the book presents is nothing but a thinly-disguised form of creationism; his patient dissection of the irregularities and shenanigans at School Board meetings to get the disclaimer through; his shrewd comments about the effect on students of being told of the theory of evolution, but not of anything else they are taught in science classes, that it has “gaps and problems”; and his staunch resistance to that false dichotomy of evolution vs. ID, and to that misleading use of “theory” to suggest “mere opinion or hunch.”

But inevitably there are some points on which I have reservations.

Section 4 of the ruling is headed “Whether ID is Science.” I wished the “problem of demarcation” – which was, in my opinion, a pointless preoccupation of too much twentieth-century philosophy of science (and now, since Daubert, has been something of a preoccupation of U.S. courts) – was less prominent. From a constitutional point of view, after all, the issue is whether the evolution disclaimer represents an improper entanglement of the state with religion (YES); and from the educational point of view, the issue is whether – science or not – ID “theory” is sufficiently well-warranted to be taught to schoolchildren (NO).

It is the preoccupation with demarcation that tempts Judge Jones into describing naturalism as “a self-imposed convention” of science. Besides running the risk of using “science” purely honorifically – as if to classify a proposed explanation as “not scientific” is ipso facto to show that it’s no good – this seems to me to miss an important point. A supernatural “explanation” of some phenomenon (flagella, blood-clotting, or whatever) posits that it is the work of a Designer neither in space nor in time, but tells us nothing about how such a designer is supposed to execute his design in the physical world. But this is no explanation at all; it’s just “God spake; and it was done” in a new vocabulary – and equally mysterious.

Judge Jones is clear that talk of an Intelligent Designer is intended, and will be understood as, a reference to God I wished he had added how implausible it is to think that this world was designed by an omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient deity. As shrewd old David Hume wrote long ago, if this world was designed, it looks much more like the work of a baby god just starting out in the creation business, or perhaps a squabbling committee of gods…

Judge Jones several times adverts to the fact that Intelligent Design Theory has not generated peer-reviewed scientific publications. That’s true, and not insignificant. But I think he over-stresses peer review as an indication of reliability. (Though it was one of the indicia of reliability suggested by the Supreme Court in Daubert, the Court was clear that peer-reviewed publication doesn’t guarantee reliability, nor lack of peer-reviewed publication unreliability. And only last month we learned that several deaths had been omitted from the data presented in a peer-reviewed article in The New England Journal of Medicine on cardiovascular risks of Vioxx; and the editor explained that it isn’t feasible for the journal to do more than a cursory check of the material submitted.)

Still, these reservations aside, my reaction is: what a splendidly thorough, searching, and reasonable ruling this was – well worth the effort of reading all 139 pages twice!

Susan Haack is Cooper Senior Scholar in Arts and Sciences, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Law at the University of Miami. Her books include Defending Science – Within Reason: Between Scientism and Cynicism and Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays.

Barbara Forrest

One of the greatest gestures of respect for one’s fellow Americans is to tell them the truth. To do otherwise is the height of disrespect. In Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, Judge John E. Jones III demonstrated his respect for his fellow Americans and the Constitution by being receptive to the truth the plaintiffs presented to him and then making that truth the foundation of his written opinion. Judge Jones himself has not been accorded similar respect from the creationists at the Discovery Institute, who have not suffered their loss graciously.

Accusing Jones of “judicial activism with a vengeance,” John West, associate director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, asserts that Jones merely “wanted his place in judicial history.” But West’s most inexcusable affront is that “Judge Jones’ repeated mistatements [sic] of fact and his one-sided recitation of the ‘evidence’ reveal not only a judicial activist, but an incredibly sloppy judge who selects the facts to fit the result he wants.” In other words, according to West, the judge wilfully ignored the truth. West says this despite the fact that the Discovery Institute creationists had their golden opportunity during the trial to properly inform him–just as they have had fourteen years to get Dembski’s promised “full-scale scientific revolution” in gear. They have failed utterly on both counts.

Unfortunately for the Discovery Institute, the facts are crystal clear. Upon learning that William Dembski, ID’s leading intellectual, actually defines ID as “the logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory,” there was no other conclusion for Judge Jones to draw except that intelligent design is not only a religious belief, but a specifically Christian one. Upon learning that Phillip Johnson, the leader of the ID movement, actually defines ID as “theistic realism,” i.e., the idea that “God is objectively real as Creator, and that the reality of God is tangibly recorded in evidence accessible to science, particularly in biology,” Jones accurately reasoned that “ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.” The judge understood fully and accurately the overwhelming body of similar evidence presented to him, and he decided the case accordingly. Judge John Jones’s decision in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District is the stark, unadorned truth. That’s what makes it so powerful. No unnecessary rhetoric, no florid prose – just the truth.

Barbara Forrest testified as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005) and is co-author with Paul R. Gross of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design.

Matt Ridley

Perhaps the resounding victory for common sense in Judge Jones’s
courtroom, the powerful words of the judge himself and the electoral
fate of the ID members of the Dover school board will now embolden
publishers of school text books to reconsider their abject policy of
gradually cutting the word evolution out of every book they publish.

There is one sentence that troubles me and it’s the same one that Dan
Dennett picked out: `Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific
experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good
science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific
community…’ My concern is different from Dennett’s, though I
share his view about creators. Mine is about scientific consensus.
In this case I find it absolutely right that the overhwelming nature
of the consensus should count against creationism. But there have
been plenty of other times when I have been on the other side of
the argument and seen what Madison called the despotism of the
majority as a bad argument. On climate change, for example, I
used to argue fervently that the early estimates of its likely extent
were exaggerated, that the sceptics raising doubts should be heard
and answered rather than vilified. Yet this minority was frankly
`bullied’ with ad hominem arguments. Again, the reaction of many
environmental scientists to Bjørn Lomborg’s splendid and
thought-provoking book was to pour scorn rather than assemble
counter evidence. Scientists are no better at coping with
disagreement than anybody else.

So what’s the difference? I agree with the scientific consensus
sometimes but not always, but I do not do so because it is is a
consensus. Science does not work that way or Newton, Harvey,
Darwin and Wegener would all have been voted into oblivion.
Science must allow for minority views. Intelligent Design is
wrong because it is dishonest, not because it is outvoted.

Matt Ridley’s many books include Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human and The Origins of Virtue : Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation.

Steve Jones

Well done the Joneses – I knew they would come up trumps in the end: and
this decision seems to me an eminently rational one. If I were religious
(which I am not) I would welcome it on the grounds that the Judge has put
paid to an undignified piece of intellectual dishonesty which does far more
harm to religion than it does to science. We in Britain should not gloat,
though: remember that we have state-funded schools that tell lies to
children about evolution and the best our Prime Minister can do to defend
that disastrous situation is to whimper that “I think it would be very
unfortunate if concerns over that were seen to remove the very, very strong
incentive to make sure we get as diverse a school system as we properly
can”. This country needs another Jones!

Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London. His books include Almost Like a Whale: The ‘Origin of Species’ Updated and The Single Helix: A Turn Around the World of Science.

Paul Kurtz

Much as I herald Federal Judge John Jones’s landmark decision in the over Dover Area School District case, we should make it clear that questions of scientific validity cannot be decided by politically motivated school boards, legislatures or even courts of law. The truth of scientific hypotheses and theories can only be settled by objective inquirers working in the laboratory or doing field work, using mathematical measurements, and testing them experimentally by their predictive power and explanatory coherence.

Judge Jones himself points out that the controversy between evolution and Intelligent Design can best be decided on scientific grounds. His decision is a credit to the judiciary in the United States, and it is especially pertinent to those who insist that judges should be fair-minded, interpret and not make law. The fact that Judge Jones is a Bush appointee and a Republican should hearten those who are frazzled by the assault on the judiciary by conservative activists who are opposed to activist judges, yet are willing to impose a religious agenda on scientific curriculums.

The Dover decision can be significant if it helps to stem the tidal wave of attempts by the Religious Right to emasculate the teaching of science in classrooms. Currently there a great number of school boards and State legislatures considering similar measures.

It is to the credit of the Creationist-Intelligent Design faction on the Dover school board, however, that they attempted to justify their efforts by saying that students need to develop “an open mind” and “critical thinking” Yet they did a disservice by attempting to inject the non-falsifiable theory of Intelligent Design in science classes. It is clear that occult causes have no place in scientific explanations, as Judge Jones recognized. Would the Intelligent Design school board faction (who fortunately lost in the most recent election) defend the teaching of astrology in astronomy courses or faith healing in medical schools as bona fide science? I hope not, especially given the fact that scientific literacy is declining among American students and that many formerly third world countries such as India and China are now outpacing our efforts in science education. Bravo to Judge Jones for recognizing that attempts to mandate theological doctrines in school curriculums is a violation of the anti-Establishment clause of the Constitution!

Paul Kurtz is editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry magazine and Chairman of he Council for Secular Humanism. He is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy of New York at Buffalo and author or editor of 44 books, including Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (2003) and Skepticism and Humanism: The New Paradigm (2001).

Daniel Dennett

Judge John E. Jones’s opinion in the Dover Area School District case is an excellently clear and trenchant analysis of the issues, exposing the fatuity and disingenuousness of the ID movement both in this particular case and in general. However I found one point in it that left me uneasy. In the Conclusion, on page 136, Jones says “Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator [emphasis added].” I have not read the scientific experts’ testimony, and I wonder if Judge Jones has slightly distorted what they said. If they said that the theory of evolution in no way conflicts with the existence of a divine creator, then I must say that I find that claim to be disingenuous. The theory of evolution demolishes the best reason anyone has ever suggested for believing in a divine creator. This does not demonstrate that there is no divine creator, of course, but only shows that if there is one, it (He?) needn’t have bothered to create anything, since natural selection would have taken care of all that. Would the good judge similarly agree that when a defense team in a murder trial shows that the victim died of natural causes, that this in no way conflicts with the state’s contention that the death in question had an author, the accused? What’s the difference?

Gods have been given many job descriptions over the centuries, and science has conflicted with many of them. Astronomy conflicts with the idea of a god, the sun, driving a fiery chariot pulled by winged horses – a divine charioteer. Geology conflicts with the idea of a god who sculpted the Earth a few thousand years ago – a divine planet-former. Biology conflicts with the idea of a god who designed and built the different living species and all their working parts – a divine creator. We don’t ban astronomy and geology from science classes because they conflict with those backward religious doctrines, and we should also acknowledge that evolutionary biology does conflict with the idea of a divine creator and nevertheless belongs in science classes because it is good science.

I think that what the expert scientists may have meant was that the theory of evolution by natural selection in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine . . . prayer-hearer, or master of ceremonies, or figurehead. That is true. For people who need them, there are still plenty of job descriptions for God that are entirely outside the scope of evolutionary biology.

Daniel Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. His many books include Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves.

Richard Dawkins

Judge John Jones has given the Founding Fathers the first really good reason to stop spinning in their graves since the Bush junta moved in. It would have been a scandal if any judge had not found against the ID charlatans, but I had expected that he would do so with equivocation: some sort of ‘on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand’ consolation prize for the cavemen of creationism. Not a bit of it. Judge Jones rumbled them, correctly described them as liars and sent them packing, with the words “breathtaking inanity” burning in their ears. The fact that this splendid man is a republican has got to be a good sign for the future. I think the great republic has turned a corner this week and is now beginning the slow, painful haul back to its enlightened, secular foundations.

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His many books include The Blind Watchmaker and The Ancestor’s Tale.

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