Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Dover Decision on Intelligent Design

Those of you who haven't read the Dover decision (.pdf) should do so. It is a landmark ruling. Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican and a Lutheran, thoroughly skewered the Dover school board for their unconstitutional actions.

Here is his conclusion:

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon* tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board's ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. 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.

To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court.

Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

To preserve the separation of church and state mandated by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Art. I, § 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, we will enter an order permanently enjoining Defendants from maintaining the ID Policy in any school within the Dover Area School District, from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID. We will also issue a declaratory judgment that Plaintiffs' rights under the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have been violated by Defendants' actions.

Defendants' actions in violation of Plaintiffs' civil rights as guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 subject Defendants to liability with respect to injunctive and declaratory relief, but also for nominal damages and the reasonable value of Plaintiffs' attorneys' services and costs incurred in vindicating Plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

* The purpose of the Lemon test is to determine when a law has the effect of establishing religion. The test has served as the foundation for many of the Court's post-1971 establishment clause rulings. As articulated by Chief Justice Burger, the test has three parts:

"First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion." (source)


CyberKitten said...

Well.... I think it's going to be difficult to come up with a more definitive statement that that one....


asher said...

Sorry...this is not a landmark decision. It would be nice if someone out there was an attorney who can comment. The facts are limited to the case at hand which means the next one is going to cite Dover and then distinguish it. The facts of the case make the decision moot since the school board members had already resigned. In addition, the idea was not to "teach" ID as opposed to evolution but to recommend the students look to other books to see alternative versions. In legal parlance this means this case will be "held to it's facts".

The decision is 139 pages long and you'd be hard pressed to find someone with the willpower to muddle through it all. No judge would go out on a limb like that and make a blanket statement about what science is and is not.

Furthermore, JA, to be intellectually honest, it would be nice if you could print the reactions to the letter regarding scientists and their intelligence which appeared in this weeks' Jewish Press....I mean just to give everyone an equal chance.

CyberKitten said...

asher said: The facts of the case make the decision moot since the school board members had already resigned.

Resigned...? Didn't they fail to get re-elected... Like, all of them....?

Jewish Atheist said...

asher, it's intellectually dishonest not to quote the Jewish Press? WTF? Do I have to quote Humanist magazine and al-Jazeera, too?

asher said...


It is intellectually dishonest to quote a letter to the Jewish Press at length and then not to print 5 letters in reaction that same letter. Giving one side of an issue is called "propaganda"..I would recommend seeing that fine "documentary" called Farenheit 911 where one side of every side was fully explored.

Jewish Atheist said...

Oh asher, I misunderstood you, sorry. I thought you were talking about the Jewish Press's response to the Dover decision. I don't make a habit of reading the Jewish Press, but I'll check it out.

Jewish Atheist said...

Okay asher, I took a look at the letters (here) and they are laughable. Not worthy of a post. Here's a quick runthrough of errors so egregious that it's clear Rabbi Eidenson has no idea what he's talking about regarding either science or evolution.

1) His letter is titled "Evolution Is Anti-Science." This is stupid, as evolution is a scientific theory, used by scientists every day as part of research.

2) "All physicists today believe in the Anthropic Principle — that the universe was designed for people." The anthropic principle emphatically does NOT mean that the universe was designed. It's specifically used to counter the "fine-tuning" (designer) argument.

3) "If you believe in accidents, you are not talking about science." Huh? Scientists can't believe in accidents? What the hell does that mean?

4) "Science teaches entropy, meaning that a closed system cannot gain in complexity, only decline. The simple plasma could thus not become complex atoms and genes." First of all, science doesn't "teach" entropy. I assume the Rabbi is talking about the second law of thermodynamics, in which case he is grossly misreading it.
"The degree of thermodynamic disorder is measured by an entity called 'entropy.' There is a mathematical correlation between entropy increase and an increase in disorder. The overall entropy of an isolated system can never decrease. However, the entropy of some parts of the system can spontaneously decrease at the expense of an even greater increase of other parts of the system. When heat flows spontaneously from a hot part of a system to a colder part of the system, the entropy of the hot area spontaneously decreases!" (source) In other words, ALL of the universe couldn't have decreased in entropy, but billions of sub-parts could have increased while the rest decreased. In fact, this is what is believed by cosmologists to have happened.

5) "Why not quote where in my letter I supposedly insulted scientists, or science? I didn’t insult science; to the contrary, I feel that modern science encourages our belief."

As stated in the original letter to the editor, the insult to science was implied in Rabbi Eidensohn's preposterous claim that he understood the second law of thermodynamics better than virtually every professional biologist and physicist who has ever lived post-Darwin.

Another letter, called "Secular Faith," has this hysterical quote, which needs no comment from me:

"Evolution is atheism, and trumped up by Satan's 'useful idiots' in the academic community this lie continues to be foisted on lemmings who lack the sophistication and backbone to lash out in disgust."

A final letter trots out all the discredited arguments ever made in favor of a 6,000 year old universe:

"Evidence such as the rate of decrease of the earth and sun's magnetic fields, the rate of decrease in the size of the solar disc, the high residual warmth of the moon and mere half-inch of dust on its surface (which amazed the Apollo astronauts who had been told to expect being swamped), the decrease in the speed of light, the paucity of helium and micro-meteoric dust in the atmosphere, the rate of mineral deposition into the oceans, the fallacious premises of radiometric dating, the still "unwrapped" state of the arms of the great spiral galaxies, the thickness of Saturn's rings, the continued existence of short-term comets, human population statistics, the complete dearth of any human record or artifact older than 6,000 years, polystrate fossils, the non-organic theory for the origin of oil, dendochronolgy (no tree older than 5,100 years can be found), pleochroic haloes etc., are all indicative of an astounding recency of creation."

I've dealt with many of these on this blog, and a simple google search will reveal all of the others to have been soundly refuted by scientists.

The Jewish Freak said...

JA: Thank you for sharing Judge Jones conclusion with us. I enjoyed reading it. - JF

Foilwoman said...

Asher: I've got a few too many other debates going on right now, so I probably will just say this once. I'm an attorney. I don't specialize in exercise clause and establishment clause issues, but I feel able to respond to your statements. You said:

"Sorry...this is not a landmark decision. It would be nice if someone out there was an attorney who can comment. The facts are limited to the case at hand which means the next one is going to cite Dover and then distinguish it. The facts of the case make the decision moot since the school board members had already resigned. In addition, the idea was not to "teach" ID as opposed to evolution but to recommend the students look to other books to see alternative versions. In legal parlance this means this case will be "held to it's facts". "

Asher, this is a landmark decision. It is the first decision analyzing and totally discrediting the intellectual and moral bankruptcy that is ID, and it is written by a Republican religious Dubya-appointed Judge in a relatively conservative district. Trust me, when any other case on this issue comes up, this case will be quoted at length, and not just because it is the first on the issue, but because it is well reasoned, well-researched, and well-written.

You are correct that this case, like every other case decided at the trial court level, applies to similar factual situations. However, the ruling is binding law in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and will be cited by courts analyzing similar scenarios throughout the U.S.

"The decision is 139 pages long and you'd be hard pressed to find someone with the willpower to muddle through it all. No judge would go out on a limb like that and make a blanket statement about what science is and is not."

Pretty much every attorney I know has read it, and everyone interested in this subject in DC has read it. It's shorter than most self-help books, romance novels, sci-fi novels, and religious tracts. And it's of vital importance and this time in our society. If you haven't read it (which I assume from the tone of your first sentence in the above-quoted text you haven't) you should simply say, in all honesty, that you cannot discuss the decision based on your own knowledge. It's actually written at a level that an intelligent high school student could read, and it has moments of truly delicious prose.

As for your statement that "No judge would go out on a limb like that and make a blanket statement about what science is and is not", the fact that the decision exists really does make your statement false. Why do that? State something that is absolutely and positively already disproven as though it is absolute fact? Really, not a good debating tactic -- usually a loser. Don't do it again with me in the room or I may actually have to resort to the dreaded intelligence and intellectual honesty review, which is always somewhat sad to do to someone who holds himself out as a religious and moral guy (hint: in your religion and my moral code, I believe intellectual dishonesty is a bad thing and well as lying in general, whether through incromprehension or venality). Only warning.

"Furthermore, JA, to be intellectually honest, it would be nice if you could print the reactions to the letter regarding scientists and their intelligence which appeared in this weeks' Jewish Press....I mean just to give everyone an equal chance."

Asher, even if the Jewish Press were the publication of record for religion v. science debates (funny, the scientists simply ignore the debate; God can exist, God can not exist, God could be seven four headed pythons, they don't care -- it's not provable, it's a matter of faith, and it's not their department. Religion should be so wise), they (the writers and editors at this world-reknowned journal of scientific commentary) are big boys (somehow, I'm betting the gender trends in publishing don't apply to that little outfit) and could respond if they wished. JA can quote who he wants. It's his blog. As for the intellectual honesty snipe, for shame. Especially after your little walk of weaselling above.

CyberKitten said...

Foilwoman said: Well.... LOTS of things...

Can I just look in your general direction & look impressed....?

asher said...


I am an attorney and I have an LLM in taxation and I'm admitted to the bar of two states.

There is something in most judicial opinions called "dicta" which means it isn't binding. But you are right, this decision is now the law in one district in the state of Pennsylvania, and until it will be overtuned, evolution will be taught as science in that district.

I am sure that most attorneys you've met have read the decision even though I've yet to see a quote other that the conclusion cited by JA. I guess the other 138 pages had alot of really boring stuff.

The Scopes trial which was also a landmark decision, was finally overturned in 1967 about 40 years after it was rendered. Again, I recommend "Inherit the Wind" great acting and courtroom scenes and alot of sterotypes.


It was nice that you quoted all those letters to the Jewish Week and called them all absurd. My favorite quotes though were:
[people who defend evolution]
They shed little light on the subject, yet engage in attacks on those with dissenting views" and

As the late journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed, "In the future evolution will be laughed at as one of the greatest jokes of history. Posterity will marvel that so flimsy and dubious a hypothesis could have been accepted with the incredible credulity that it has."

It's nice to see you open debate is allowed.

Anonymous said...

It's fun to dispute evolution. Until your child gets Lymphoma. and you demand the full gamut of modern drugs and medical treatments that would not be possible without Darwin's theory of evolution.

People who reject evolution ought to stop being hypocritical and reject all modern medicine predicated on evolutionary theory. Isn't faith good enough for you people?

Foilwoman said...

Asher: And yet you haven't read the decision? Or can't follow it? It may be boring to you because you have already decided to reject it out of hand. Your prerogative of course, but admit that you either haven't or can't follow the analysis and have done.

And can you now admit what you denied earlier, but what your latest post conceded: that the Dover decision is a landmark decision and that your previous statement was erroneous at best (mistaken or deceptive -- only you know). As an attorney, you would know better (one hopes).

As for the movie "Inherit the Wind", that's a movie, not a depiction of the actual case. Have you tried reading that one? Probably not, as you seem to have an aversion to checking out anything that might challenge your world view (or reading comprehension). What was the point you were trying to make about the Scopes trial?

Oh, and yes evolution will be taught as science, which it is. ID can be taught as a religious theory (one of many) for the creation of the earth, but only in religious schools, churches, and homes.

And also, Asher, do you see the disingenuousness of your statement: "Sorry...this is not a landmark decision. It would be nice if someone out there was an attorney who can comment" by which you imply that you are a poor, ignorant lay-person who really isn't capable of commenting. I agree with the two adjectives and with half of the descriptive clause. Next you'll tell us you're a physician and a Ph.D in biology. You don't even seem to remember the arguments and factual assertions you have previously made and don't seem to have any problems contradicting yourself.

Used to work in tax myself. Which sections of the Code do you work with most?

CyberKitten said...

I've been working my way through the 139 page decision since I found it on the web recently. I've made it to page 80 so far - please don't tell me how it ends.. I like the building of suspence (grin).

I must admit I have skipped over a few bits. Though I studied Law up to the age of 18 (what we over here call 'A' Levels) it was mainly to do with Contract Law - also as I'm from the UK I'm kinda unfamiliar with US Constitutional Law... But it's well written and readable.. so I intend to finish it at some point. After all, it IS an important document for anyone interested in the argument.

Apart from some of the necessary legal stuff I certainly don't find anything in it hard to understand even though I'm not a 'scientist' by training. My degree's are in Social Ethics (long story) and Religious Studies.

Foilwoman said...

CK: So your another one of use "educated in religion, but stepped away from the light into the murky dimness of doubt" types. Don't you just love this blog? Where'd you go to school. I spend a fair amount of vacation time in England visiting my best friend (still is, after 20+ years) while she got a few master's degrees and a nice institution of higher education on your sceptred isle.

CyberKitten said...


Oh, I'm a life long atheist with an interest in Religion.... I never turned my back on God.. I never believed in Him..

Yes, JA runs an excellent Blog. I'm quite jealous of his patience and readership...

I got my first Degree @ Lancaster, my Masters (in Religious Studies) was from Cardiff. Now I'm considering a 2nd Masters - probably in Politics...

asher said...


Talk about an attitude. Res Ipsa Loquitor. My God, what did I do to deserve a diatribe like that?

Foilwoman recently saw two movies and was surprised at how dumb the audience was. I'm surprised at how dumb most movies are nowadays.

JA, I realize you cannot control the attitudes of your bloggers but we're supposed to be civil in here. So to exchange insults, in every law office I've worked, the female attorneys generally went through a dozen female secretaries each month. The male attorneys somehow managed to retain the same ones for years.

Under Scopes,(1924) the law disallowing the teaching of evolution was upheld in Tenn. It was not overturned until 1967. Actually the ruling was never overturned; the law was changed.
So much for doing your research.

Jewish Atheist said...


Quite right. Foilwoman, and asher, let's try to keep it civil.

Foilwoman said...

Asher: My best friend now was my secretary back in 1984. My next secretary still babysits my kids even though she retired several years ago. Although I'd be taking it personally, I suppose, to presume your dig at female attorneys (to whom I'm sure you were always kind, generous, and gracious) was aimed at me. And then you ask for civility. The legal decision in the Scopes trial wasn't really the point at issue in our earlier discussion and I didn't look it up (the Dover case was, and whether Inherit the Wind was an accurate depiction of the Scopes trial, which I think we both assumed it wasn't). But I'm sorry if female professionals in your office get your goat. However, I think that also was a departure from civility and to then request sweetness from me (when you can't admit your own errors and bad behavior) would be something you might want to think about.

I'll ask again. Have you read Judge Jones's decision?

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I can't believe anyone with even a simple grasp of science would not believe in evolution.

It is mind boggling. I automatically think that someone who rejects evolution either knows zero about science and/or has an IQ under 90.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Asher, can you provide one peer reviewed scientific study that refutes evolution?

Just one.

Jewish Atheist said...

Hey let's lay off the ad hominems, buddy. They're not going to win you any arguments anyway.

Jewish Atheist said...

For the record, I know many very smart people who don't believe in evolution, but it's true that none of them know much science.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I think I qualified my insult quite well.

I know some intelligent people who don't believe in evolution too. But they talk as if they know about science and of course they don't.

It is just frustrating that they don't try.