A state education standard in Ohio that requires students to critique evolutionary theory is not in jeopardy despite the high-profile federal court decision against intelligent design in the Dover, Pa., school district, according to a legal scholar.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones ruled Tuesday against an October 2004 school board policy that required students of a ninth-grade biology class in the Dover Area School District to hear a one-minute statement that says evolution is a theory, and intelligent design “is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”
Since the ruling, critics have insisted Ohio’s Critical Analysis of Evolution model science curriculum should be repealed by the state board of education.
But Gonzaga University law professor David DeWolf says the Dover decision legally is irrelevant to the Ohio curriculum.
“The U.S. Supreme Court laid down the foundation for this body of law nearly 20 years ago when they wrote that “scientific critiques” of “prevailing scientific theories” may be taught in public schools,” said DeWolf.
DeWolf also is a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, the Seattle-based think tank that has led the promotion of intelligent design.
Proponents of intelligent design say it draws on recent discoveries in physics, biochemistry and related disciplines that indicate some features of the natural world are best explained as the product of an intelligent cause rather than an undirected process such as natural selection. Advocates include scientists at numerous universities and science organizations worldwide.
DeWolf points out that Ohio is outside of Judge Jones’ legal jurisdiction, but he asserts, moreover, that Ohio’s plan is different because it does not require the teaching of intelligent design, so his determination that intelligent design is not science would not have an effect anyway.
Ohio’s lesson plan was created to implement a benchmark in the state science standards which requires students to be able to “describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
The standards also clearly state that they do not endorse teaching intelligent design.
There also is no mention of religion or alternative scientific theories in the plan, which was created with input from a science advisory committee that included teachers, science educators and scientists from across Ohio.
John West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, says his group doesn’t want to limit scientific study.
“Unlike the ACLU, we want students to learn more about evolution, not less,” he said. “Students need to learn Darwinian evolution because it is the dominant theory of biological evolution. But, they also need to learn about some of the scientific evidence that challenges parts of the theory.”
DeWolf says the Dover decision is by no means the end of the controversy.
“Judge Jones thought he could write the definitive opinion that would spare the rest of the country the need to think further about these issues,” he said. “But our governmental structure provides for a multiplicity of voices, including the United States Congress, state boards of education and legislatures, whose views are quite different from Judge Jones’ about the value of teaching the controversy.”
Jones ruled Dover board members violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on congressional establishment of religion and charged that several members lied to cover their motives even while professing religious beliefs.
“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy,” Jones wrote. “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.”
West asserted Jones “conflated Discovery Institute’s position with that of the Dover School Board, and he totally misrepresents intelligent design and the motivations of the scientists who research it.”
The judge reached “well beyond the immediate legal questions before him,” West contended, offering “wide-ranging and sometimes angry comments denouncing intelligent design and praising Darwinian evolution.”
“Judge Jones found that the Dover board violated the Establishment Clause because it acted from religious motives. That should have been the end to the case,” said West. “Instead, Judge Jones got on his soapbox to offer his own views of science, religion, and evolution. He makes it clear that he wants his place in history as the judge who issued a definitive decision about intelligent design. This is an activist judge who has delusions of grandeur.”
Jones anticipated the charge of judicial activism, writing in his opinion:
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 not 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.