The mass of evidence the trial piled up and the judge’s decision have not put an end to the public quarrel. The “explanation of … life that differs from Darwin’s view,” it seems, is not irreducibly complex: No matter what parts of the idea get discredited and removed by scientific review, ID, or some variant, continues to function. Many practicing scientists no longer engage ID proponents in debate because there seems to be no common ground of discourse on the most basic principles of what counts as evidence for accepting or rejecting an idea.
A few weeks after his appearance on the stand, Behe posted on a blog his assessment of Rothschild’s questioning. “The cross examination was fun,” he wrote, “and showed that the other side really does have only rhetoric and bluster.” (He did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment for this article.)
Behe has paid a heavy professional price for the notoriety his faithfulness to ID has brought. Last fall, Lehigh’s biology department posted a disclaimer on its website that singled him out as the “sole dissenter” from evolutionary theory. “It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific.”
Even when the decision was handed down, he remained unbowed, despite the weight of evidence. “What has a judge to do with the rules of science?” he told a reporter. “I think he just chose sides and echoed the arguments and just made assertions about our arguments.”
On the morning when the judge issued his ruling, Rothschild was with the trial lawyers and other collaborators on the Kitzmiller case at Pepper’s Harrisburg offices. The news was greeted with hugs and high-fives and champagne. “The thing that’s most etched in my memory from that day is when the parents came trickling into the office for a press conference,” he recalls. “They had this look of happiness and satisfaction and relief on their faces. We had walked many miles with them. It was just so satisfying to see their faces and to know that what they had stood up for had been vindicated.”
For the Dover community parents and teachers who fought back against the board, it was a personal victory. At the press conference, the first words uttered by parent Tammy Kitzmiller were: “Thank you, Judge Jones. Thank you for listening.”
In his opinion, the judge castigated the Dover school board for the “breathtaking inanity” of its curriculum change and noted that several members “would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID policy.” Their stated justification, that it was to improve science instruction, was “a sham,” he said, citing the “flagrant and insulting falsehoods” as “sufficient and compelling evidence” to prove that the secular purposes offered by the board were “equally insincere … 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.”
For their pains, the board succeeded only in dividing the Dover community, saddling it with million-dollar legal fees, and undermining the carefully crafted legal strategy set in motion by the ID movement. They also earned for the district the scorn of mainstream scientists and the ridicule of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. And if Pat Robertson was right, in a pronouncement made after election day last November, the board also managed to call down the wrath of God upon their little town by being voted out of office. With the board’s ID backers gone, there will be no appeal.
Although the ruling is legally binding only in Pennsylvania’s middle district, church-state issues expert Gey thinks its effect will have a longer reach. “What it has done is make it difficult for any court to rule in [ID’s] favor because very few of these courts are going to do what Judge Jones did. They’re not going have a record as detailed as this … They’re all going to have to write opinions to get around his 139-page exegesis of this doctrine. That’s going to be hard to do.”
Rothschild has returned to his usual load of re-insurance cases, although he traveled to Kansas in January to advise the parties fighting changes to science standards imposed by the state’s board of education. The new standards cast doubt on evolution and delete the term natural explanations from their old definition of science. He also went to Ohio, where the board of education had authorized a curriculum that teaches students there is “a debate” over the soundness of evolution among scientists. “Teach the controversy” is the latest anti-evolution spin, Rothschild says.
“What’s apparent to me is that the intelligent-design challenge is almost entirely a series of negative arguments against evolution,” he observes, citing irreducible complexity, gaps in the fossil record, and other problems taken up and disposed of in Kitzmiller. “If you look at the curriculums in Kansas and Ohio, they make all of those same negative argumentsthey’re just not putting them under the name creationism or intelligent design. These arguments bear no relationship to what scientists are really struggling with. There are questions, as in every scientific theory, but none of them are challenges to the basic principle of common ancestry.”
The National Center for Science Education, which served as science adviser in Kitzmiller, tracked more than 80 “anti-evolution incidents” in 30 states last year, ranging from school-board curriculum changes to the introduction of anti-evolution bills in state legislatures. “If a lawsuit is necessary in Kansas, Ohio, or some other state to stop one of these improper policies, will I think hard about wanting to participate? Absolutely,” Rothschild says.
Dr. William Dembski, a mathematician and another high-profile intellectual of the ID movement, told the press that Judge Jones’ decision “galvanizes the Christian community,” adding: “People I’m talking to say we’re going to be raising a whole lot more funds now.”
To understand how that funding might lead to science discoveries pointing up gaps and problems in evolutionary theory, one needs only to make a leap of faith.
Peter Nichols CGS’93 is editor of Penn Arts & Sciences Magazine.
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©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
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COVER STORY: Intelligent Demise