Saturday, November 12, 2005

'Intelligent design' backers lose in Pennsylvania, etc

News items, all on Dover, with my comments in square brackets:

'Intelligent design' backers lose in Pennsylvania, USA Today, November 9, 2005, Jill Lawrence ... The court verdict in a landmark lawsuit on "intelligent design" is weeks away, but voters in Dover, Pa., delivered their judgment this week by sweeping out eight of nine school board members who decided that ninth-grade science students must be told the concept is an alternative to evolution ... The board stirred controversy by requiring a one-minute classroom statement about the idea that parts of life and the universe are so complex that an intelligent designer best explains them. That put Dover at the center of a national argument over whether intelligent design is science or religion. ... All nine board members backed the classroom statement, but only eight were up for re-election. They all lost to challengers who argued that the discussion doesn't belong in science class. School districts and legislatures across the country are weighing policies that raise doubts about evolution and in some cases mandate the teaching of intelligent design. Most of the efforts have died in court or legislative committee, but a supportive ruling in the Dover federal court case could brighten their prospects. Proponents say the Dover board requirement encourages critical thinking; opponents say it promotes a religious viewpoint, because the designer has to be God. Federal Judge John Jones says he'll rule by early January on whether the requirement violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Eric Rothschild, attorney for the 11 parents who challenged the board's policy, says the court case remains important, despite the election. "Other state and local school boards are watching this, some with a very strong intention to teach intelligent design." Attorney Richard Thompson, who represents the ousted board members in the lawsuit, says the election was not a setback. "This is an idea whose time has come. And the vagaries of the political landscape in particular localities are not going to stop the progress." Thompson is president of the Thomas More Law Center, which says its mission is to defend "the religious freedom of Christians." The election results in Pennsylvania came the same day the Kansas state school board adopted statewide science standards that cast doubt on evolution. Critics such as the National Center on Science Education, a non-profit group that defends evolution, say the standards open the door to teaching intelligent design. The six-week Dover trial, which ended Friday, kept intelligent design on local voters' minds as the election approached. Jim Cashman, 51, a board member who lost, says the trial distorted the school board's intent. "There was a lot of stretching going on to make it seem like there was any religion involved with it," he says. "It's a one-minute statement with nothing religious in it. But the perception of the voters is what counts." The eight new school board members ran on a pledge to "discuss intelligent design in the proper forum." They define that as philosophy or religion classes. Patricia Dapp, 56, a health services administrator elected to the board, says her slate won some votes from people who consider the subject inappropriate for science class and from others unhappy that the board adopted the policy even though it was told it would trigger a potentially expensive lawsuit. "It's restored my faith in the community," she says of the election. "They wanted a change. They definitely will get a change." Dapp says the new board will weigh the judge's ruling when it starts meeting in January. "We want to have all the information and all the facts in front of us before we act," she says. ... [Given the evident dishonesty of former and current board members, which will increase the likelihood of paying $1 million legal costs, I am not surprised that all eight of the Dover board who were up for re-election lost. However, I note that "The eight new school board members ran on a pledge to `discuss intelligent design in ...' ... philosophy or religion classes" which is fine by me. It needs to be pointed out that the situation in Kansas was different, in that the Kansas board followed the Discovery Institute's "teach the controversy" advice, whereas the Dover board rejected it (see below).]

Pennsylvania voters oust school board, CNN, November 9, 2005 ... DOVER, Pennsylvania (AP) -- Voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a statement on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum. The election unfolded amid a landmark federal trial involving the Dover public schools and the question of whether intelligent design promotes the Bible's view of creation. Eight Dover families sued, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Dover's school board adopted a policy in October 2004 that requires ninth- graders to hear a prepared statement about intelligent design before learning about evolution in biology class. Eight of the nine school board members were up for election Tuesday. They were challenged by a slate of Democrats who argued that science class was not the appropriate forum for teaching intelligent design. "My kids believe in God. I believe in God. But I don't think it belongs in the science curriculum the way the school district is presenting it," said Jill Reiter, 41, a bank teller who joined a group of high school students waving signs supporting the challengers Tuesday. A spokesman for the winning slate of candidates has said they wouldn't act hastily and would consider the outcome of the court case. The judge expects to rule by January; the new school board members will be sworn in December 5. School board member David Napierskie, who lost Tuesday, said the vote wasn't just about ideology. "Some people felt intelligent design shouldn't be taught and others were concerned about having tax money spent on the lawsuit," he said. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by some kind of higher force. The statement read to students says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." A similar controversy has erupted in Kansas, where the state Board of Education on Tuesday approved science standards for public schools that cast doubt on the theory of evolution. The 6-4 vote was a victory for intelligent design advocates who helped draft the standards. ... [Also at CBS, MSNBC & Livescience. I suspect that "concern... about having tax money spent on the lawsuit" was a (if not the) major factor in this electoral rout of the Dover board. The concern that ID does not "belong... in the science curriculum the way the school district is presenting it" is shared by the Discovery Institute, who from the outset described the Dover policy as "misguided":

Discovery Calls Dover Evolution Policy Misguided, Calls For its Withdrawal, Discovery Institute, December 14, 2004 SEATTLE, DEC. 14 - The policy on teaching evolution recently adopted by the Dover, PA School Board was called "misguided" today by Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, which advised that the policy should be withdrawn and rewritten. "While the Dover board is to be commended for trying to teach Darwinian theory in a more open-minded manner, this is the wrong way to go about it," said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture (CSC). ... "When we first read about the Dover policy, we publicly criticized it because according to published reports the intent was to mandate the teaching of intelligent design," explained West. "Although we think discussion of intelligent design should not be prohibited, we don't think intelligent design should be required in public schools." "What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin's theory," added West, "which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public."

and advised the Dover board that they "should not to go down that path":

Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble in AEI Forum, NCSE, October 23, 2005 ... MARK RYLAND (DI): .... Let me back up first and say: The Discovery Institute never set out to have a school board, schools, get into this issue. We've never encouraged people to do it, we've never promoted it. We have, unfortunately, gotten sucked into it, because we have a lot of expertise in the issue, that people are interested in. When asked for our opinion, we always tell people: don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're teachers are likely to be hostile towards it, I mean there's just all these good reasons why you should not to go down that path. If you want to do anything, you should teach the evidence for and against Darwin's theory. ... there is a great deal of -- many, many problems with Darwin's theory, in particular the power of NS and RV to do the astounding things that are attributed to them. .... So that's the background. And what's happened in the foreground was, when it came to the Dover school district, we advised them not to institute the policy they advised. In fact, I personally went and met with them, and actually Richard [Thompson] was there the same day, and they didn't listen to me, that's fine, they can do what they want, I have no power and control over them. But from the start we just disagreed that this was a good place, a good time and place to have this battle -- which is risky, in the sense that there's a potential for rulings that this is somehow unconstitutional."]

A Decisive Election in a Town Roiled Over Intelligent Design, The New York Times, November 10, 2005, Laurie Goodstein DOVER, Pa., Nov. 9 - ... On Tuesday, the residents of Dover ousted all eight school board members running for re-election who had put their town in a global spotlight and their school district on trial for being the first in the nation to introduce intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in science class. In swept the full Dover Cares slate of eight candidates, which had coalesced to oppose the change in the science curriculum. "I think the people of Dover are tired of the attention over such a minuscule thing and they want a change," said Lonny Langione, who had served on the board in years past and supported the challengers. "A lot of the people I talked to were upset because the school board came to using taxpayer money to advance their own agenda." Before it took up intelligent design, Dover was a typical American town experiencing typical growing pains ... By wading into the great reawakening of a national debate over the teaching of evolution, the town of Dover was diverted from bread-and-butter issues, and found itself divided in surprising ways. The lines were not neatly drawn. Christians who belonged to the same church found themselves on opposite sides. Fathers quarreled with sons. Next-door neighbors posted dueling lawn signs. Registered Republicans cast their party affiliations aside to run with the victorious Dover Cares slate when election rules forced all eight of its candidates to run on the Democratic line. Voters themselves crossed party lines to vote for the candidates they favored. If they had not, the school board incumbents, all of whom ran on the Republican line, would probably have prevailed in a district where 70 percent of voters are registered Republicans. In the end, the election was close. Only 26 votes separated the winner of one seat from his rival. "I'm surprised that we won all eight seats," said the Rev. Warren Eshbach, the spokesman for Dover Cares, whose son, Robert, was among the winners. "It shows what good bipartisanship can do." The incumbents did not return phone calls seeking comment. The election came only four days after closing arguments in a six-week trial of the Dover school board and administrators in Federal District Court in Harrisburg, about 25 miles to the northeast. Eleven parents had sued the Dover board on constitutional grounds, saying that intelligent design was an outgrowth of religious creationism. The case will be decided by Judge John E. Jones III, who said he expected to rule by early January. The majority of voters rejected the board's argument that it was only trying to expose students to a variety of theories about the development of organisms. The policy did not tell teachers to teach intelligent design, just to mention it in a statement to be read to students. The statement said that evolution is "not a fact" and that students can explore intelligent design by reading "Of Pandas and People" in the school library. The debate over Darwin versus intelligent design has played out in places like Myers Barbershop, where the owner, Barry Myers, has been trimming the hair of Dover residents for 37 years. "I just don't think we got here by some Big Bang," said Mr. Myers, who said he voted for the incumbents. "I think if they have the right people to teach it, it should be taught." Teaching intelligent design, he said, would help bring a "moral compass" to the classroom. His son, Matt Myers, 34, expressed a decidedly different view, saying: "I'm glad the board's been voted out. I don't think science teachers are qualified to teach intelligent design." Matt Myers said intelligent design should be offered as an elective, a position advocated by several Dover Cares candidates. The campaign was hard fought and at times nasty. Board members sent out a mass mailing accusing the Dover Cares slate of allying with the American Civil Liberties Union ... The A.C.L.U. is representing the plaintiffs against the board. Bryan Rehm, a member of the Dover Cares slate and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, "That's the level they were willing to sink to." The suit will not be affected by the election in the short term, lawyers involved in it said. The judge must still issue a ruling on the intelligent design policy as it stands. But the new school board, which takes office in early December, could decide to revoke the current policy. ... [It is an important point that "The judge must still issue a ruling on the intelligent design policy as it stands" (my emphasis). As previously posted, I still consider it likely that, despite the dishonesty and evident creationist motivation of some (if not all) the Dover board members, judge Jones will rule that the Dover board's statement does have sufficient "secular purpose" and is therefore constitutional. It is a great pity that the case divided the community, which was another of the points made by the Discovery Institute's John West against the Dover policy, it is "likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community":

Discovery Institute's Position on Dover, PA "Intelligent Design" Case, John G. West, Discovery Institute, September 21, 2005 "Discovery Institute strongly opposes the ACLU's effort to make discussions of intelligent design illegal. At the same time, we disagree with efforts to get the government to require the teaching of intelligent design. Misguided policies like the one adopted by the Dover School District are likely to be politically divisive and hinder a fair and open discussion of the merits of intelligent design among scholars and within the scientific community, points we have made repeatedly since we first learned about the Dover policy in 2004. Furthermore, most teachers currently do not know enough about intelligent design or have sufficient curriculum materials to teach about it accurately and objectively."
There was no policy that "science teachers ... teach intelligent design," but it does make an important point that it is contained in the Discovery Institute's John West's and Mark Ryland's abovementioned advice to the Dover board: "most teachers currently do not know enough about intelligent design or have sufficient curriculum materials to teach about it accurately and objectively" and "don't teach intelligent design. There's no curriculum developed for it, you're [sic] teachers are likely to be hostile towards it". Personally, given the problems of widespread prejudice against, and ignorance of, ID (and not just on the evolution side), I wonder if ID will ever (or at least in my lifetime - I turned 59 the other day) be able to be taught in schools or even universities. It may always be a higher-order concept that can only be taught to mature adults outside of schools and universities in the public square - in books, journals, magazines, newspapers and the Internet (including blogs like this).]

Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol).
"Problems of Evolution"

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