ID over in Dover

Intelligent design proponents indeed suffered a major defeat in Kitzmiller v. Dover. As was the case in McLean v. Arkansas, a full trial provided the ID side an opportunity to make its best case that ID was a valid scientific alternative to evolution. Judge Jones's decision was long, detailed, and devastating to that contention: on the basis of the testimony and other submitted materials, he ruled that ID was a form of creationism and, at best, a failed science that proponents could not argue was pedagogically appropriate to teach. The decision was not appealed; therefore, regardless of how strong the decision was, it is precedent only in the Middle Federal District of Pennsylvania. In another district, with another fact situation (perhaps with a less obviously religious school board) a policy promoting ID might be proposed and fare better. Although Judge Jones is a conservative Republican appointed by President George W. Bush, an even more conservative judge with perhaps less respect for precedent might be more open to ID arguments. Still, any new venue would have to overcome the strong evidence presented in Kitzmiller regarding the creationist history of ID.

But it is not easy to pick a venue for a trial. There might be a federal district court or even a state court that interprets Establishment Clause jurisprudence in a way friendly to ID—but can ID proponents convince a school board in that district to pass a policy? According to news reports, TMLC unsuccessfully tried for four years to interest a school district in passing a pro-ID policy before it found the Dover school board as its test case (Goodstein 2005). And for there to be a trial, there must be someone willing to bring suit against the policy: there must be one or more plaintiffs. And they may be hard to find in any school district where there is solid support for a pro-ID policy. Thus, finding the perfect constellation of facts, so to speak, might be difficult for ID proponents. But because Kitzmiller is only advisory rather than precedential outside of its district, a new Dover-like trial elsewhere remains a possibility.

There still remains the difficulty for ID proponents of demonstrating that ID is valid science, which is key to its survival in the courts. Thus far, ID has failed to produce any research that supports, much less explains, biological design. As Jones noted in his decision, a negative argument that evolution is inadequate theory does not demonstrate ID. To do so requires at minimum an attempt to present a mechanism: what did the designer do and when did the designer do it? Thus far, ID has made many promises of research breakthroughs just around the corner, but such promises remain to be fulfilled. Without them, ID will likely remain unpersuasive in convincing a judge that it is a valid science.

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