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Slate's Human Nature: 'Intelligent Design' Rejected
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Slate's Human Nature: 'Intelligent Design' Rejected

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Slate's Human Nature: 'Intelligent Design' Rejected

Slate's Human Nature: 'Intelligent Design' Rejected
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The theory of "intelligent design" should not be taught in Pennsylvania's Dover-area public schools, according to a federal judge's ruling on Tuesday. Madeleine Brand speaks with Slate analyst William Saletan about the ruling, and the next phase in the push to stir up debate over the teaching of evolutionary science.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, more scrutiny of President Bush's decision to authorize domestic spying. But, first, a federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled that intelligent design theory has no place in public school biology classes. The ruling by Judge John Jones comes at the end of a trial that drew national and international attention. Former members of the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board had instructed the town's biology teachers to highlight so-called intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. The judge has now found that teaching of intelligent design is unconstitutional. Joining us to discuss the case is Will Saletan. He writes on the intersection of science and politics for the online magazine Slate.

And hi, Will.

WILL SALETAN reporting:

Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: First of all, tell us more about this ruling from Judge Jones. What specifically was his objection to Dover's policy?

SALETAN: Well, looking at the opinion, he seems to make three points. The first is he says that intelligent design, which is masquerading as a science theory, according to the Dover school board, is not actually science. He says specifically that it is untestable as scientific theories have to be. And he says, you know, we can talk about intelligent design in the school, but it can't be in a science classroom because it's not a scientific theory. The second thing he seems to say is that it is inseparable--intelligent design is inseparable from creationism and religion. So it has religious content and, therefore, it violates previous constitutional tests set by the Supreme Court. And the third thing he seems to say is that evolution itself can be a theistic theory; that is, it is not an assault on religion to teach evolution because you can be a believer and an evolutionist at the same time.

BRAND: Now the school board members have said that intelligent design was not meant to be a substitute for creationism, possibly keeping in mind the court's previous rulings on that. So the judge apparently didn't buy that?

SALETAN: No, he definitely did not. He was very clear in saying that this was a thinly disguised religious indoctrination. And much of the case--the argument in court involved the history of how this policy was adopted in Dover, and the judge makes clear that that weighed heavily in the opinion. There's plenty of evidence that the advocates of intelligent design were motived not by scientific open-mindedness but by an attempt to teach their brand of religion.

BRAND: Now this decision is kind of academic for Dover, isn't it, since the school board was voted out last month?

SALETAN: Yeah. What's really amazing about this decision, it's written as though--and maybe it was written before the school board was voted out because it's written as though the judge wants the voters to get rid of the school board. I mean, he just weighs into that school board with all the might he has. He says that they wasted the resources of the community; that they let outsiders, activists from other states get them involved in this and spend their money on it. He rips them. He says they call themselves religious, the school board members, but they disguise their religious motivation as science. It's a very morally condemning kind of opinion.

BRAND: Well, Will, broaden this out for us if you will. What does this mean for the larger question of whether intelligent design can be taught in schools?

SALETAN: Well, this is definitely a defeat for the advocates of intelligent design and for creationists in general, but this is not the end of the story and it's certainly not the last battle of the war. In fact, a similar situation happened in Georgia earlier this year. A federal district judge ruled against a district that wanted to put a sticker in school books claiming that evolution is a theory, not a fact. And that judge said that that was creationism that was unconstitutional. However, about a week ago there was a hearing in the court above, in the federal appellate court, and it sounded from the oral argument in that case as though that judge's ruling might get struck down. So you never know. It could happen to this judge as well.

BRAND: Opinion and analysis from Will Saletan, a writer at the online magazine Slate. He's also the author of the book "Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War."

Thanks again, Will.

SALETAN: Thank you, Madeleine.

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