Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. There has been a lot of interest in this important anniversary among the media, and some editors and reporters are using the occasion to re-examine the issue of teaching evolution in the public schools.
U.S. News & World Report asked Americans United Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee to pen an opinion column about why "intelligent design" does not belong in public school science classes. You can read it here.
"The creationists won't admit it, but the debate is over, and they lost," writes Katskee. "Every time creationism has been brought into public schools, the courts have found it unconstitutional. It doesn't matter what label is used – 'creation science,' 'intelligent design' (ID), or 'the theory of abrupt appearance' – all are cut from the same unconstitutional cloth."
Katskee is eminently qualified to comment on this matter. He played a crucial role on the legal team that stopped the teaching of ID in Dover, Pa., public schools in 2005. Americans United and the ACLU brought that legal challenge on behalf of local parents, aided by the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton. The National Center for Science Education provided invaluable technical assistance as well.
The ruling was a slam-dunk for our side.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones issued a powerful 139-page decision exposing ID for the sham that it is. Read it here.
Richard is right to point out that the creationists keep coming up with new strategies. Ironically, they are evolving! Their techniques are getting slightly more sophisticated. ID, for example, sheds some of the more outlandish claims of traditional creationism (such as the idea that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, a concept that was fun on "The Flintstones" but that makes for lousy science).
But despite their constant re-labeling, the creationists continue to lose in court. Why? Because at the end of the day, what they are pushing is religion, not science – and judges can see that.
In 1999, I attended a Religious Right conference sponsored by TV preacher D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries in Fort Lauderdale. Among the speakers was Phillip Johnson, a California law professor and dean of the ID movement. Johnson championed a strategy he called "The Wedge" that he rather bombastically believed would bring "Darwinism" to its knees.
Johnson assumed he was speaking to a uniformly friendly audience and was thus frank about his goals. The idea behind "The Wedge," he said, was to convince people that evolution is inherently atheistic and that God does exist. From there, people are told about "the truth" of the Bible, "the question of sin" and finally "introduced to Jesus."
Call that what you will, but it ain't science. As long as some type of religious conversion remains the end goal of ID proponents, AU and its allies will continue to win in court. (And just to be clear, let me say one more time that lots of religious groups support evolution. As Sandhya Bathija pointed out on Monday, nearly 1,000 members of the clergy will take part in the upcoming "Evolution Weekend.")
Check out Katskee's column – Robert T. Pennock's is well worth your time, too – and spread the word to your friends. Comments are encouraged on the U.S. News site, so don't hesitate to add your two cents.