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Like many evolutionary mistakes, intelligent design may be on the road to extinction, put there Tuesday by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III. When Jones ruled that the Dover Area School District’s intelligent design policy violates the First Amendment and barred the district from mentioning intelligent design in biology classes or “from requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution,” he wasn’t just applying a pinprick to the trial balloon intelligent design supporters had chosen to float in this case. He aimed a cannon at it. And fired. Several times. Odds are, other courts will find it hard to argue that he missed his target. In one of the most closely watched cases in recent memory — not just in Pennsylvania but across the nation — Jones took the opportunity in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District to frame the case in the much larger context many, including supporters of intelligent design, had seen it in. The impact of his ruling can’t be overstated. Not only did Jones find the policy unconstitutional but he also ruled that intelligent design is not science. “[M]oreover … ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,” he said in the 139-page opinion. Jones didn’t pull any punches in making his ruling, criticizing the school board for its policy, as well as those who saw the case as an opportunity to make law that would pave the way for greater acceptance of intelligent design. “Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge,” he said. “If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. “The breathtaking inanity of the board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.” Not surprisingly, several groups that endorse the teaching of intelligent design, or “ID” as Jones referred to it throughout his opinion, lashed out and accused him, as he anticipated, of being an “activist federal judge.” Who knew that Republican judges appointed by Republican presidents could be such hacks for the left? Well, if activism is changing the norm and imposing one’s will from behind the safe confines of the bench onto the helpless masses, then Jones’ decision in Kitzmiller hardly fits the bill, since the opinion follows closely the reasoning of other federal courts on the issue, including the U.S. Supreme Court. If anything, Jones was critical of the changes the Dover Area School Board made for an entire community and potentially a whole generation of school children. But organizations like the Discovery Institute, the Thomas More Law Center and the Cato Institute Center for Educational Freedom should be angry with Jones. Because what he did in his opinion, systematically and ruthlessly, was expose intelligent design as creationism, minus the biblical fig leaf, and advanced by those with a clear, unscientific agenda: to get God (more specifically, a Christian one) back into the sciences. Jones goes into an exhaustive examination on the intelligent design movement, and what he found will make it difficult for future pro-ID litigants to argue that the whole thing isn’t religion masked in neo-scientific terms. According to Jones, the Discovery Institute’s Center for Renewal of Science and Culture developed a “Wedge Document” in which it said the goal of the intelligent design movement is to “replace science as currently practiced with ‘theistic and Christian science.’” He said that one of the professors, an ID proponent, who testified for the school board “remarkably and unmistakably claims that the plausibility of the argument for ID depends upon the extent to which one believes in the existence of God.” Jones also points out that the ID textbook the Dover policy encouraged students to check out, “Of Pandas and People,” is not only published by an organization identified in IRS filings as a “religious, Christian organization,” but that the book was meticulously changed following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 1987 that the U.S. Constitution forbids the teaching of creationism as science. By comparing the early drafts to the later ones, he said, it was clear that the definition for creation science was identical to the definition of intelligent design and that the word creation and its variants were replaced with the phrase ID and that it all happened shortly after the Supreme Court decision. As Jones points out throughout his opinion, ID’s supporters couldn’t shake two problematic facts — its close association with creationism and its inability to divorce itself from the supernatural. “ID is reliant upon forces acting outside of the natural world, forces that we cannot see, replicate, control or test, which have produced changes in the world,” he said. “While we take no position on whether such forces exist, they are simply not testable by scientific means and therefore cannot qualify as part of the scientific process or as a scientific theory.” All of which lead Jones to conclude that “ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.” There’s plenty of other things worth noting in Jones’ opinion, including how school board members talked at meetings about creationism and complained of “liberals in black robes” taking away “the rights of Christians,” or how the Discovery Institute was in contact with board members prior to the policy change, and a number of other machinations that might leave one feeling less than secure about the separation of church and state in Pennsylvania, but those are facts specific to this case. The real impact of the opinion is what Jones lays out with regard to intelligent design’s roots, its proponents, its agenda and the tactics (and there’s really no other way to describe them) being used to advance it. It reads like a cautionary tale, one that we should all be reading. And while it’s unlikely that the country has seen the last of this issue, one can hope that Jones’ decision might save future judges a little bit of time, if not discourage groups with a religious ax to grind from using residents of small communities as pawns in the name of a dishonest, fruitless agenda.

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