Intelligent design on trial

Many newspapers are writing stories about the upcoming trial in Dover Pennsylvania, in which parents have sued the school board for requiring that “Intelligent Design” be taught alongside evolution in science classes. The lawsuit argues that teaching creationism in schools amounts to state-sponsored religion.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that teaching creation science in public schools was unconstitutional because it was based on religion. So the plaintiffs will try to prove that intelligent design is creationism in a new package. Richard Katskee, assistant legal director of Americans United, said the “Pandas” textbook only substituted references to “creationism” with “intelligent design” in more recent editions.

Mr. Thompson said his side would prove that intelligent design was not creationism because it did not mention God or the Bible and never posited the creator’s identity.

Right. “Your honor, we never used the word ‘God’. We just refer to an all-powerful, omniscient and benevolent designer.”

“You can dress up intelligent design and make it look like science, but it just doesn’t pass muster,” said Mr. Stough [a science teacher] … “In science class, you don’t say to the students, ‘Is there gravity, or do you think we have rubber bands on our feet?'”

However, the ACLU has some hard work ahead. It may well be able to win this case, and convince a judge that “Intelligent Design” is neither. But they will not likely convince a divided public, or even President Bush, who supports ID. Nearly half of Americans believe that life-forms on earth have remained the same since the dawn of time. It’s enough to make you want to cry.

Some are comparing this latest lawsuit to the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, TN. The 1960 movie Inherit the Wind portrayed that trial as a triumph of rationalism over small-minded ignorance and superstition. In a climactic scene, Spencer Tracy’s “Clarence Darrow” character puts “William Jennings Bryan” on the stand, and exposes the inconsistencies in his beliefs. (The play and movie were also an allegorical reaction to the McCarthy hearings, just like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible).

But David Greenberg at Slate opinions that the outcome of the real trial was much more ambiguous. And although we might think that evolution carried the day in Dayton, anti-evolutionary forces never conceded defeat.

Over the past 80 years, those on the religious right have continued to build political power in the US, and to modify their tactics. These are people who have an unwavering faith in their convictions, which no dialogue or reasoning can change. And in their minds, this is not just about science education, but is a battle for America’s collective soul. You don’t give up on a mission like that just because a judge rules against you.

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