Scientists discuss 'What if?' scenario in Dover intelligent-design case
Less than two months after Kitzmiller v. Dover, the decision that ruled teaching intelligent design in a public school unconstitutional, the Ohio Board of Education eliminated education standards that were friendly to the religion-inspired idea.
"They looked across the border and thought, 'We might be sued as well,'" said Ken Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University who was heavily involved in the case, consulting for the plaintiffs — the parents of students in Dover Area School District.
Miller and Eugenie Scott, the recently retired executive director for the National Center for Science Education who also consulted for the plaintiffs, presented their ideas about what would have happened if the Dover parents had lost the case at a panel discussion before a packed auditorium at York College on Thursday night.
The lawsuit: In October 2004, Scott explained, Dover's school board voted to include intelligent design in the curriculum. Parents' only recourse was a lawsuit, she said.
Because "there is no law against bad science," she explained, the plaintiffs had to show that the school board was advocating religion by teaching intelligent design. ID is really a subset of creation science, she said.
They also had to show that intelligent design is based in religion and not science, and that there's no valid secular reason for teaching intelligent design — that it's not science and that it's factually wrong.
After about six weeks of testimony from expert witnesses and others, the parents prevailed.
What if: The Kitzmiller v. Dover decision serves as a precedent only for the middle district of Pennsylvania, Miller said.
But it has had far-reaching impacts, the two said.
Before Kitzmiller, Scott said, there had been ID-friendly legislation introduced in almost every state.
"That kind of legislation usually dies in committee," she said after the presentation.
But "we can assume it would have had a better chance of passing if not for Kitzmiller," she said.
In Kansas, Miller said, citizens might have elected anti-evolution candidates to the state board of education, people who might have proceeded to strike evolution from the state's education standards — as they were about to do before being voted out of office.
Instead, Kansans voted in pro-science candidates, he said.
"Warning": Miller said he originally became involved in the case because a Dover Area School District teacher sent him an inquiry regarding a high school biology textbook he had co-written.
The textbook is one of the most widely used in the nation. It doesn't shy away from the concept of evolution, he said.
In Cobb County, Georgia, in 2004, a school board voted to put a "warning" sticker on each of his books, which were used by the school district.
Parents filed a suit over the stickers, and a federal court banned them, he said.
After the Kitzmiller decision, he said, a lawyer with the defense in the Cobb case wanted a retrial, but he was worried he'd be "confronted with the full Dover," Miller said — that the same expert witnesses who spoke in the Kitzmiller case would present the same information that "streamrolled" the idea of teaching intelligent design in Dover.
The fight continues: The decision largely stopped ID advocates' efforts to insert the concept into school curriculums, but it hasn't stopped anti-evolution sentiment, Scott said.
Miller himself is a devout Catholic, he said, and he sees no contradictions between his faith and his work.
But many Americans still see a dichotomy between those who embrace evolution and people of faith who believe in creationism, and in other countries, Scott said, some of those who practice Christianity, Judaism and Islam oppose the teaching of evolution, sometimes with a great degree of influence.
Miller said he has lectured in places like Brazil, a country in which 85 percent of residents would like to see evolution and creationism taught side-by-side.
In Turkey, the center of the Islamic push against evolution, anti-evolution activists say the theory is undermining the morals of the country's youth.
Even at the discussion Thursday night, several audience members stood up to voice their skepticism about evolution. One, who said he was a former employee of Dover Area School District and had submitted testimony in the trial, even shook a Bible in the air.
Miller cited a study that shows anti-science feeling, which apparently can be reinforced when people are told additional scientific information, might be born of people's unwillingness to identify with members of the scientific community.
Scientists are working to find new ways to present information so that people accept it rather than see it as threatening or opposed to their own culture and identity.
And the tide is turning, Miller said.
He cited a recent study by the Pew Research Center stating that 75 percent of Americans ages 18-29 accept evolution. "The post-Kitzmiller climate has everything to do with this," he said.
— Reach Julia Scheib at firstname.lastname@example.org.