What if Dover had prevailed on intelligent design?


Where would intelligent design be if science hadn't prevailed through a group of Dover Area School District parents who sued to prevent the teaching of the religion-based concept?

That's the topic of a session being presented at York College next month by two scientists — Ken Miller and Eugenie Scott — who consulted for the plaintiffs in the landmark science-in-education case.

Scott is the recently retired executive director for the National Center for Science Education, while Miller is a biologist and co-author of one of the most widely used high school science textbooks. He's also the author of "Only a Theory," which explores intelligent design and the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case.

What if Intelligent Design Had Won? will be presented 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at the college's DeMeester Hall. It's open to the public.

"It will be about ... the ramifications of this big decision," said Karl Kleiner, associate professor of biology at the college. "It's not just about the teaching of evolution but rather what happens when ideology trumps science, when people's beliefs trump well-established fact."

Ten years later: Creation science, abrupt appearance theory, intelligent design, anti-evolution — they're all the same idea presented in a different package, Scott said.

Ten years ago in Dover, the debate centered around intelligent design.

Scott — in conjunction with the nonprofit science center dedicated to keeping evolution and climate change in science classrooms — served as an advisor for the plaintiffs and their legal team in the case against teaching the pseudo-science.

"Intelligent design, to use evolution terms, is a lineal descendent of creationism," Scott said. "The history of the anti-evolution movement is based in presenting creationism in a form they'd be able to teach in classrooms."

Relabeled: After the teaching of actual Bible verse was rejected by the public school system, creation science made its way into the classrooms.

"As it turned out, creation science was only very thinly disguised, and the scientific qualifications were essentially zero, so the courts struck that down as well," Scott said. "And then the next iteration was intelligent design, the biggest difference being it doesn't use the word creation. Intelligent design doesn't immediately sound like a religious view until you ask who the designer is."

In October 2004, the Dover Area School Board adopted a policy requiring that intelligent design be mentioned in ninth-grade biology, resulting in the now-famous Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District trial in which the ACLU of Pennsylvania sued on behalf of 11 parents.

Judge John E. Jones III on December 20, 2005, issued a 139-page decision ruling that the board's policy was unconstitutional. The ruling concluded that intelligent design is not science and permanently barred the board from adding it to the science curriculum.

"The crux of the argument was to show the judge, in no uncertain terms, that intelligent design was a relabeled form of creationism," Scott said.

"The Supreme Court had ruled decades before that (creationism) was not constitutional — you can't advocate teaching of creationism in public schools because that'd be promoting religion, and we need the schools to be neutral."

Divine: Scott said her "favorite" version of repackaged creationism is the abrupt appearance theory, which offers alleged scientific evidence of everything happening at one time as opposed to organisms appearing over billions of years.

"It emerged shortly after creationism, but it never really caught on," Scott said. "It didn't really appeal to the conservative Christian base. Creationism is based on the implication of a creator, intelligent design implies the designer — things just poofing into existence isn't quite as satisfying from a religious standpoint."

And therein lies the challenge for those trying to relabel creationism today, Scott said.

"The problem is, in my opinion, that the creationists are kind of stuck," she said.

"They can't come up with an agent-less form of creationism, there has to be that divine agent or it's not really creationism, but that divine aspect is also exactly what keeps it out of the classroom."

Now: Just because creationism hasn't re-emerged with a new name doesn't mean that its proponents have given up, Scott said.

"After Kitzmiller there was a doubling down on another strategy that hasn't got quite as much attention but is still around," Scott said.

"Now there is way more of just attacking evolution."

There also was the emergence of the academic freedom laws.

"They should be called the evolution bashing laws," Scott said with a laugh.

"Academic freedom laws have been submitted in a dozen or more states, only two of them have passed — two too many as far as I'm concerned — in Louisiana and Tennessee.

"They're very cleverly written to permit teachers to bring in supplemental materials beyond the regular curriculum that would allow them raise discussions on controversial topics. They sort of recast anti-evolution as students engaging in critical thinking."