Intelligent Design Supporters Vow to Fight On

Last week, in a case from Dover, Penn., a judge ruled that it is unconstitutional to teach intelligent design in public schools. Supporters of intelligent design say the ruling won't deter them from raising questions about the theory of evolution.

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We take a moment now to look at the implications of an important court decision last week. In a case from Dover, Pennsylvania, a federal judge ruled that teaching intelligent design in public schools is unconstitutional. It was a significant setback for intelligent design, but supporters say they'll still encourage students and teachers to question the theory of evolution. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

In his 139-page decision, federal Judge John Jones said that intelligent design, a belief that the complexity of life indicates it's the work of a creator, is not science. His direct quote is, "It can't uncouple itself from its creationist and thus religious antecedents." And the judge had harsh words for Dover's school board members, referring to the `breathtaking inanity of their decision to include intelligent design in science classes.'

Although the decision was released in Pennsylvania, it was clearly heard across the country, including Kansas where last month the state school board adopted new science standards written by intelligent design supporters. But Kansas Board of Education chairman Steve Abrams says he's not concerned about the Dover decision.

Mr. STEVE ABRAMS (Chairman, Kansas Board of Education): Well, number one, that federal court doesn't have jurisdiction in Kansas. And number two is that science curriculum standards did not include intelligent design. That was specifically what he was referring to.

ALLEN: Many intelligent design supporters consider the Kansas standards a model. In several sections, the standards instruct teachers to discuss with students areas where they say the theory of evolution falls short, things like gaps in the fossil record. Nick Matzke of the National Center for Science Education says this is where the intelligent design movement now is focusing its energies, on promoting a critical analysis of evolution.

Mr. NICK MATZKE (National Center for Science Education): There's a saying that creationists don't go extinct, creationists evolve. And intelligent design was one stage of that and this critical analysis of evolution stuff is clearly the upcoming stage.

ALLEN: In Kansas, Ohio and a few other states, that's the approach intelligent design supporters have mostly taken, a strategy they sometimes call `teaching the controversy.' But in his ruling, Judge Jones rejected that approach in Pennsylvania, saying evolution was grounded in, quote, "well-established scientific propositions." Singling it out for special treatment, he said, injects religion into the science curriculum and wrongly misrepresents its status in the scientific community.

Casey Luskin is with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based group that's at the enter of the intelligent design movement. While he's troubled by the decision, that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional, he's even more concerned about the judge's ruling that evolution should not be singled out for criticism within science classes.

Mr. CASEY LUSKIN (Discovery Institute): This is really an instance of a judge really ruling on issues that the courts have no basis ruling on. The courts have no basis to rule that evolution is beyond criticism and they have no basis to rule that local control of school boards don't have the right to, you know, critique scientific theories as they see fit.

ALLEN: Next month, some of the lawyers involved in the Dover case will be in Kansas to discuss how that decision might apply to possible court challenges here. Pedro Irigonegaray is an attorney who defended evolution in school board hearings in Topeka earlier this year. He says lawyers are prepared to go to court as soon as any school district in Kansas implements the new science standards and that they're also now discussing taking possible pre-emptive legal action.

Mr. PEDRO IRIGONEGARAY (Attorney): The case from Dover provides us with a significant amount of additional legal precedent and we are convinced that our position at the hearings was correct. Intelligent design has no place in science.

ALLEN: While all eyes have been on Dover, arguments have been recently heard in another court case that may soon thrust evolution back into the headlines. That case involves labels placed in biology textbooks in Cobb County, Georgia, warning students that evolution is a theory, not a fact. A US district judge ruled the labels are unconstitutional, but it's being appealed. All of which means the fierce debate surrounding the teaching of evolution will continue well into the foreseeable future.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Kansas City.

ELLIOTT: This is NPR News.

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