Order in the Court

April 21st, 2007

It's not surprising that our November/December cover story about biology professor Ken Miller '70 ("The Evolution of Ken Miller") prompted a lot of reader mail. Miller, a longtime defender of evolution and a consistent critic of creationism and Intelligent Design (ID), was most recently known as one of the principal expert witnesses in the federal district court lawsuit brought by eleven parents of school-age children in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suburb of Dover. The parents claimed that a statement about evolution and ID that the Dover school board had voted to require teachers to read to ninth-grade biology students was an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state.

Miller, who also happens to be a Roman Catholic believer, sided with the parents. He testified that the statement was a misleading attempt to present ID as God-friendly science. ID, he said, "tells students quite explicitly, 'Choose God on the side of intelligent design or choose atheism on the side of science.' " Furthermore, he testified, if certain biological phenomena can only be explained outside natural processes, as ID theorists assert, then ID becomes a "science stopper": what's the point of applying the scientific method to things that by definition can't be explained? In their letters included in this issue, BAM readers praise Miller for standing up for science, criticize him for believing in God, fault his theology, and accuse him of distorting the arguments of ID's advocates.

Apparently, though, the judge in Harrisburg, John E. Jones III, found Miller's arguments convincing. On December 20, a few days before the BAM went to press, he issued a 139-page decision that not only sided with the parents in the case; it declared unambiguously that ID is not a scientific theory but a thinly veiled religious belief. Noting, with a nod to Miller's testimony, that "every major scientific association that has taken a position on the issue of whether ID is science has concluded that ID is not, and cannot be considered as such." Jones, a Republican appointed by President Bush, concluded: "To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions."

I checked in with Miller the day after the ruling. He was jubilant. He pointed me to a statement he had just written. Asserting that "the pseudo-scientific claims of ID collapsed upon inspection" in the courtroom, he explained that "placing science and religion in opposition to each other, as a mandate to teach ID inevitably would, dishonors both science and religion, and would require young people to make the false choice of rejecting their faith to accept science, or turning their backs on modern science to maintain their faith. Everyone who cherishes religious freedom in America has reason to give thanks for this decision."

In November the citizens of Dover voted out of office the nine school board members who'd mandated that the ID statement be read in school, making the judge's decision a moot point, in that town at least. They must have been listening to a certain Brown professor.

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Related Issue
January / February 2006