ID: The 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover case

Darwin in the Dock: Intelligent Design Has Its Day in Court

Margaret Talbot in The New Yorker, December 5, 2005, writes:

Courtroom battles about the teaching of evolution rarely have devoted much discussion to the science of evolution. This is partly because few working scientists have been willing to testify against evolutionary theory, and partly because judges have been reluctant to engage the heady question of what constitutes science. Even in the Scopes "Monkey Trial," of 1925, the judge, John Raulston, limited the issue at hand to whether John Scopes, a high-school teacher, had broken a Tennessee law against teaching "that man has descended from a lower order of animal." He refused to consider whether the law made any sense in scientific terms, and rebuffed efforts by the defense attorney, Clarence Darrow, to bring in an array of evolutionary scientists. In Epperson v. Arkansas, the landmark 1968 Supreme Court case in which a biology teacher named Susan Epperson successfully sought to overturn a state law banning the teaching of evolution, the trial in Little Rock lasted less than a day and did not include any scientific testimony. Edwards v. Aguillard, a 1987 case in which the Supreme Court struck down a statute requiring that creationism and evolution be taught side by side in public-school science classes, began in district court with a summary judgment against the Louisiana law, and thus had no testimony at all. Last spring, when the Kansas Board of Education held hearings on the teaching of evolution that were dominated by advocates of intelligent design, evolutionary scientists boycotted them, perhaps to their regret: in November, the Kansas board voted to include challenges to Darwinian theory in the state standards.

Nothing in the background of John E. Jones III--the judge who recently presided in a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, courtroom over Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, the first case to test whether it is constitutional for public-school classes to present the argument of intelligent design--suggested that he would deviate from this pattern. Jones, who is fifty years old, was born in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. His family owns golf courses. In 1995, Tom Ridge, who was then the state's Republican governor, appointed him chairman of the state liquor-control board; in that post, he banned the sale of Bad Frog Beer, because its label shows a frog giving the finger. Yet the trial that Jones oversaw, which took place in a functional courtroom trimmed with teal and white panels, turned out to be rather like the biology class you wish you could have taken. Lawyers spent six weeks posing questions like "What is science?" and "Who was Charles Darwin?" Proponents of intelligent design--the argument that certain features of the natural world are so complex and intricately put together that they must have been deliberately fashioned--claimed that it was a bold new scientific idea that had been unfairly maligned. And scientists who believe that intelligent design is merely a repackaged version of creationism made a case for evolution that was thrilling in its breadth (evidence from homology, modern genetics, molecular biology, the fossil record) and satisfying in its detail (a recently excavated fossil of the oviraptor, a small carnivorous dinosaur of the kind that evolved into birds, depicts the creature brooding over its eggs like a hen).


NOVA's Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial

Science is "Exhibit A" in a Landmark Trial on the Teaching of Evolution

Senior Executive Producer Paula Apsell explains why and how NOVA took on the contentious issue behind Kitzmiller v. Dover.

"In 2004, the Dover, Pennsylvania school board established a policy that science teachers would have to read a statement to biology students suggesting that there is an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution called intelligent design. Intelligent design, or ID, claims that certain features of life are too complex to have evolved naturally, and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent. The Dover high school science teachers refused to comply with the policy, refused to read the statement. And parents opposed to the school board's actions filed a lawsuit in federal court. The trial that followed was fascinating. It was like a primer, like a biology textbook. Some of the nation's best biologists testified. When I began delving into the case, it was clear that both the trial and the issue were perfect subjects for NOVA."

Philadelphia Inquirer article by Jonathan Storm; November 13, 2007

The board members who battled to include "intelligent design" alongside evolution in the Dover, Pa., public school curriculum weren't very intelligent themselves, tonight's Nova reveals in "Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial," a two-hour special beginning at 8 on WHYY TV12.

To make their case, they offered a book that had been altered, overwriting the text to take "creationist" out and drop "design proponents" in. But it didn't work very well. The words came out "cdesign proponentsists."

And the judge who adjudicated the lawsuit brought by parents against the school board 100 miles west of Philadelphia in 2005, a judge who was nominated by former Sen. Rick Santorum, a creationist activist, and assumed to be safely in the fundamentalist fold, wasn't blinded by science.

He ruled that intelligent design "is a religious view . . . and not a scientific theory," and barred it from the classroom.

"Judges have to decide what is good science in a myriad of different circumstances," John E. Jones 3d, who presided over the Dover trial, told TV critics at their summer gathering in Los Angeles. "We use touchstones, such as, 'Is it testable?' 'Is it generally accepted in the scientific community?' 'Have there been published works, peer review, works about the particular concept?' And, you know, at the end of the day, intelligent design failed all those tests."

One of the people defending the "science" that an intelligent being created all living things just as they are, admitted that under his definition, astrology is a science, too.

Nova steers clear of archers with horses' bodies and other star-symbols, but it does take plenty of time from the surprisingly gripping re-creation of the trial and interviews with many of the principals to offer some science of its own.

Nova is there, contemporaneously with the trial, as paleontologists dig up a 375 million-year-old half-fish, half-amphibian fossil in the Canadian arctic. Named tiktaalik, the creature seems to represent a tangible example of Earth life's evolution from the sea to the land.

Nova looks at the science of genetics and molecular biology, unknown at the time Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. A clear explanation - one of several great uses of animation to explain some of the scientific principles involved in the case - illustrates how the 24 chromosomes of apes evolved into the 23 of humans.

Nova also provides history, reminding us that evolution backers actually lost the famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" in Tennessee, memorialized by Inherit the Wind, and that the theory of evolution was basically absent from American textbooks until the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik in 1957 spurred a national science catch-up effort. It wasn't until 1987 that the Supreme Court deemed creationism a religious belief and not a scientific theory and banned it from the classroom.

Intelligent design is seen by many as an end run around that ban, and some Dover school board members acknowledged as much.

Nova, the science show, stoutly defends science against the attack of the surprisingly hard-to-pin-down intelligent-design brain trust. It does use such loaded words as "claim" and "so-called" to describe tenets of the supposed theory, but it is surprisingly clear of a "nyah-nyah, we won" tone. That makes this significant program more accessible to all.

"I think it's important for people to see this," Judge Jones, a practicing Lutheran, told the TV critics. "If you glibly embrace intelligent design, or if you're in that 48 or 50 percent who believe creationism ought to be taught in school, I hope [you] will watch this."

Peabody Award

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial was among the recipients of the 67th Annual Peabody Awards, which "recognize distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web."  According to a press release issued on April 2, 2008, "The centerpiece of this thoughtful, topical edition of NOVA was the recreation, verbatim, of key testimony and argument from a six-week trial in Pennsylvania that served as a crash course in modern evolutionary theory, the evidence for evolution and the nature of science."  NCSE congratulates the producers of the documentary -- NOVA/WGBH Educational Foundation, Vulcan Productions Inc., and The Big Table Film Company -- on the honor.

American Association for the Advancement of Science 2008 Science Journalism Award

Judgment Day:  Intelligent Design on Trial, the NOVA documentary about Kitzmiller v. Dover, was among the winners of the 2008 Science Journalism Awards presented by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to honor excellence in science reporting.  According to a November 12, 2008, press release:

The judges praised the two-hour NOVA broadcast for its careful, balanced presentation on the landmark Dover, Pennsylvania, court case that weighed the merits of discussing "intelligent design" in the science classroom.  Through interviews with participants in the 2005 case, use of trial transcripts and reenactments of key courtroom moments, the broadcast captured the community turmoil surrounding the case, described the modern science of evolution, and explained why U.S District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design is a religious idea that should not be taught in public school science classrooms . Frank Roylance, a science writer for The Baltimore Sun who was on the judging panel, said the NOVA broadcast was "a very careful, methodical and sensitive presentation of a vital scientific question, with enormous social and political import."  He added:  "The filmmakers managed to be both clear and accurate with the science, and fair and sensitive to the beliefs of the ID proponents."  Tina Hesman Saey of Science News said the program "brought to life the scientific process and really shows how we know what we know about the evolution of life on Earth."  AAAS News Archives 

This well done 2-hour documentary can be viewed on-line (or at Google Video) or purchased. The NOVA website is rich in resources on evolution.
Books on the Trial

Edward Humes

Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008).  Amazon

Humes is the author of nine nonfiction books, writer at large for Los Angeles Magazine, a former newspaper reporter, and a recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and a PEN Book Award.  Author's own biosketch 

Monkey Girl examines the nation’s continuing war over what we should teach our children -­ and what we believe -­ about where we come from. The story revolves around an epic federal court case, Kitzmiller vs. Dover, that pitted the theory of evolution against a competing idea, Intelligent Design. “ID” states that DNA and living cells are too complex to have evolved without the help of a master designer. Proponents, including the school board in rural Dover, PA., call this a scientific idea suitable for public school; eleven parents sued, saying it was religion in disguise   

Monkey Girl blog    Read the Prologue   Excerpt  

From The Washington Post. Reviewed by Christine Rosen

What's in a name? For supporters of the theory of "intelligent design" (ID), a great deal. They argue that the complexity of our universe is best understood as the result of an intelligent cause rather than the undirected process of natural selection described by Charles Darwin, and they want to see this taught in public school science classes. ID is not religious, they argue; it is simply scientific. But critics of ID argue that it is merely a more sophisticated way of promoting "creation science," which rejects evolutionary theory in favor of a literal reading of the book of Genesis and therefore promotes the teaching of religion in public schools.

In 2004, when the Dover, Penn., school board voted to require biology classes to use a supplemental textbook that promoted the theory of intelligent design rather than evolution, the conflict that erupted was about far more than semantics. As Edward Humes describes in this lively and thoughtful book, Dover -- like Dayton, Tenn., during the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" -- became a proving ground for clashing beliefs about the origins of life and constitutional questions about the separation of church and state.

"The scientific community sees the creationist critics of evolution as yahoos, religious zealots, and scientifically suspect charlatans," writes Humes. "The creationists see the evolutionists as immoral and dishonest purveyors of a pseudoreligion called Darwinism that makes God superfluous." Each side is guilty of misrepresenting the other. In Dover, the people on each side believed those on the other were attempting to indoctrinate their children. And everyone soon realized that this local controversy had national implications.

Humes takes the title of his book, Monkey Girl, from the taunt leveled at a child whose mother objected to the new policy. Some parents, including teachers in the school district, viewed intelligent design as a stealth form of creation science. Although many of these parents were Christians (two even taught Sunday school), they felt that teaching ID in a public school classroom improperly injected religion into education. They brought their case, Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District, with the aid of the ACLU, the National Center for Science Education and lawyers from the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton.

Defending the Dover school board was a Michigan-based public interest law firm, the Thomas More Law Center, and, initially, the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a nonprofit research institute that has tried to make ID a palatable alternative to evolutionary theory. As Humes describes it, the Discovery Institute's "seductively reasonable" approach to evolution is "teach the controversy," implying that there is a scientific controversy about evolution, when in fact the controversy is a cultural one. Yet the strategy has proven effective for increasing public awareness about ID, and it has put supporters of evolutionary theory on the defensive.

Although he provides the necessary backstory to the Dover case, the most gripping portions of the book are Humes's descriptions of the trial itself, which began in the fall of 2005. "Kitzmiller became at root everything the original Scopes trial had started out to be but was not," Humes writes. "Back then, the leading scientists had been ready to testify, only to be ruled irrelevant by the creationist judge who presided in Dayton." In Harrisburg, however, scientific experts from both sides argued for 40 days in testimony that often included abstruse discussions of the properties of bacterial flagella.

According to Humes, proponents of intelligent design quickly realized that this would not be their triumphant hour. The experts called by the plaintiffs repeatedly and relentlessly challenged the claims of ID's supporters. The defense also succumbed to internal squabbling.

Although his own sympathies clearly are with the defenders of evolutionary theory, Humes makes a strenuous effort to be fair-minded. He offers a sympathetic portrait of Michael Behe, the Lehigh University biochemist well known for his work on ID and the defense's star expert witness. School board member Bill Buckingham, the driving force behind the ID policy, could easily have come across as an ignorant fundamentalist bully. In Humes's hands, he is a more complex and pitiable figure -- a stubborn, intolerant man who was also in chronic pain and struggling to overcome an addiction to OxyContin but who felt that what he was doing was good for the schoolchildren of Dover.

Judge John E. Jones III, a Republican, emerges as the hero in Humes's tale. In his eloquent ruling for the plaintiffs, which should be read by every student of law, he noted, "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." Even before Jones issued his ruling, the citizens of Dover reached their own verdict: In the next school board election, "every one of the eight incumbents who favored intelligent design was ousted," Humes writes.

Given his talent for narrative and eye for detail, one wishes Humes had delved deeper into the culture that nurtures creationist beliefs. His story would have benefited from a more nuanced examination of Christian fundamentalism (and the ways in which it differs from evangelical Protestantism). For, as Humes himself notes, you need not be a fundamentalist to have sympathy for the scriptural story of creation. "Nearly half the citizenry accepts the idea that God created man in his present form, just as the Bible holds," he writes. "Only a third believes that there is valid scientific evidence to support the theory of evolution."

Given this fact, it is remarkable that we don't see more skirmishes such as the one that erupted in Dover. The Kitzmiller case was not quite the "battle for America's soul" that Humes suggests in his subtitle, but it was an important episode in the country's ongoing struggle to reconcile faith, science and culture. Humes's book is a compelling account of that struggle, and likely not the last salvo in the battle between evolution and intelligent design. Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Lauri Lebo

The Devil in Dover: An Insider's Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America (New York: New Press, 2008).  Amazon

Product Description

The page-turning story behind the 2005 intelligent design case in Dover, Pennsylvania—the case that made front-page news around the world. 

"What happened in Dover is a tiny sliver, a broken shard of glass mirroring what plays out across the country. A war of fundamentalist Christian values versus secularism. A battle between evangelical fanaticism and tolerance."—from The Devil in Dover

In December 2004, following the Dover area school board's decision to teach intelligent design in ninth-grade biology classrooms, eleven parents sued, sparking a federal constitutional challenge. Lauri Lebo, a small-town reporter who covered the trial, knows not just the legal case and science, but the people on all sides of the divisive battle.

In The Devil in Dover, Lebo traces the compelling backstory of this pivotal case described by some as a perfect storm of religious intolerance, First Amendment violations, and an assault on American science education. In a community divided across unexpected lines, the so-called activist judge, a George Bush-appointed Republican, eventually condemned the school board's decision as one of "breathtaking inanity."

Lebo follows the story through its surprising twists, pondering whether this was a national war playing out in a small town or a small-town political battle playing out on the national stage. As a "local girl" with a fundamentalist Christian father, Lebo provides an account that is both fascinating and moving, as she thoughtfully probes one of America's most divisive cultural conflicts—and the responsibility journalists have when covering such a controversial story.

National Center for Science Education Resources
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is a nationally-recognized clearinghouse for information and advice on teaching evolution in the science classroom. They provide:
  • Reviews of current anti-evolution activity in the United States and around the world
  • Background to the fundamentally creationist and anti-evolution movement known as "Intelligent Design"
  • Detailed information on the Creation/Evolution controversy from 1859 to the present
  • Resources for parents, teachers, school boards, and the general public

Ken Miller's Assessment of the Trial

Ken Miller—a practicing Roman Catholic and co-author of a biology textbook used by 1/3 of US high schools—also served as an expert witness for the plaintiffs in the famous Kitzmiller et al vs. Dover Area School District case. (More on Miller can be found on our Creation through Evolutionary Means: Books page). Below are a number of essays, lectures, and blog posts on the topic of evolution and Intelligent Design.

"An idea that provoked, but didn't deliver" in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christmas, 2005

If there is such a thing as home-field advantage in a courtroom, intelligent design should have carried the day in the Dover evolution trial.

Advocates of ID had the support of the local school board, a case presented by experienced lawyers from the Thomas More Legal Foundation, expert witnesses with scientific credentials, and a conservative judge appointed by President George W. Bush. That judge gave them all the time they wanted to lay out the scientific case for ID. And lay it out they did.

But that was exactly the problem.

In the harsh light of the courtroom, ID shriveled and died. As Judge John E. Jones 3d noted in his opinion, he was forced to come to "the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science." After six weeks of watching from the bench as ID's pseudoscientific arguments fell apart, as it advocates admitted they had no positive evidence for "design," and as school board members "testified inconsistently, or lied outright under oath," it was clear that the judge had seen enough.

He slammed the Dover school board's "breathtaking inanity," and he enjoined the board from making ID a part of its curriculum at any time in the future. Jones' devastating opinion is written in clear and accessible language and should be required reading for every administrator, school board member, and science educator in the United States.

So, exposed, discredited and defeated, ID is finished as an anti-evolution movement, right? I wouldn't count on it.

Read the full article >>

Miller's response to the Judge's verdict

Judge John E. Jones' decision in the Dover, Pennsylvania intelligent design (ID) case is a great victory for science, science education, and for freedom of religion.

Judge Jones clearly grasped the weight of scientific evidence behind evolution, and properly pointed out that it serves as the central organizing principle of the biological sciences. The trial was especially significant because it afforded the proponents of ID, including such prominent advocates as Michael Behe and Scott Minnich, the opportunity to present a scientific case for ID over several days of wide-open testimony. What took place, as the trial record makes clear, is that the pseudo-scientific claims of ID collapsed upon inspection. A series of expert witnesses for the parents who objected to the district's ID policy were able to demonstrate conclusively that ID is not science. They further showed that ID has no factual grounding, and that it represents a thinly-veiled attempt to insert a religious doctrine into schools under the guise of science.

As an expert witness for the plaintiffs, I was pleased to take the stand on the opening days of the trial in defense of the scientific integrity of evolution, and I am delighted with the verdict. 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, and to applaud the courageous parents and teachers of Dover who took a stand for educational and religious freedom in their community.

Case Western Lecture: "The Collapse of Intelligent Design. Will the Next Monkey Trial be in Ohio?"

Professor Miller speaks before an audience at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, January, 2006. 

Streaming video at You Tube. A portion of this content overlaps with the HHMI lecture below.

HHMI Lecture: "Evolution: Fossils, Genes, and Mousetraps"

Leading evolution educator Ken Miller discusses the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution, presents compelling evidence for evolution and reasons why "intelligent design" is not scientific. The presentation also features Dr. Miller's responses to questions from a live audience of high school students.

Order free DVD here from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

Blog Posts in response to the Discovery Institute's criticism of the Kitzmiller verdict (January 2009)

Carl Zimmer, notable science writer and blogger, invited Professor Miller to share his blog for a series of guest postings. Here is Carl's introduction:

In September 2005, Ken Miller, a Brown University biologist, took the witness stand during a lawsuit known as Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. The plaintiffs, a group of parents in Dover, Pennsylvania, objected to “intelligent design” being required to be presented as an scientific alternative to evolution. Miller, the first expert witness called by the plaintiffs, showed that the key claims made by advocates of intelligent design are false. The plaintiffs won the case, and the people of Dover voted out the members of the Dover board of education who had pushed through the intelligent design requirements.

Over three years later, advocates of intelligent design are still trying to relive the case.  In late December, the Discovery Institute unleashed a three-part attack on Miller’s testimony, focusing on the evolution of proteins that make blood clot. I pointed out the absurdity of their arguments with the case of the one-wheeled bike.

But there’s much more to this story, as Miller noted in an email he sent to me the other day–more science and more clues to the strategies intelligent design advocates will be using in the years to come.

While Miller is the author of a number of books and a frequent lecturer, he has not yet been absorbed into the blogosphere. And so I’ve invited him to share his thoughts in three posts.

One  Two  Three

Kevin Padian's Testimony in the Trial

Kevin Padian (PhD, Yale), an educator and paleontologist, is Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley, Curator of Paleontology, UC Museum of Paleontology, and President, National Center for Science Education (see below). His research interests are united by an interest in how large-scale changes get started in evolution. He and his colleagues work to address questions such as “how did flight evolve?” and “how did dinosaurs walk?” 

Kevin Padian testified on Friday, October 14, 2005, in the courtroom of Judge John Jones III, located in the federal courthouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This was Day 9 of the 21-day Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Kitzmiller was a district-level court case, held in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The complaint was filed on December 14, 2004, and the decision was issued on December 20, 2005. Padian was one of six expert witnesses who testified for the victorious plaintiffs. Padian's testimony provides an excellent introduction to the science of evolution. Padian's exhibit slides are included in the transcript

For more technical information on the Kitzmiller case, including transcripts, legal filings, and the decision, see the relevant pages at NCSE and TalkOrigins. The original PDF transcripts are available in the transcripts directory of the NCSE Kitzmiller documents archive.

More from Padian? To inaugurate Evolution '09, San Francisco's celebration of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of the Origin of Species, Padian spent about sixty minutes in an informed discussion of evolution and religion with Alan Jones, the dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, on November 4, 2008.  Now video of the event is available on-line from
See also Kevin Padian and Nicholas Matzke. Darwin, Dover, ‘Intelligent Design’ and textbooks

Biochem J. 2009;417:29–42.

ID (‘intelligent design’) is not science, but a form of creationism; both are very different from the simple theological proposition that a divine Creator is responsible for the natural patterns and processes of the Universe. Its current version maintains that a ‘Designer’ must intervene miraculously to accomplish certain natural scientific events. The verdict in the 2005 case Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover School District, et al. (in Harrisburg, PA, U.S.A.) was a landmark of American jurisprudence that prohibited the teaching of ID as science, identified it as religiously based, and forbade long-refuted ‘criticisms of evolution’ from introduction into public school classes. Much of the science of the trial was based on biochemistry; biochemists and other scientists have several important opportunities to improve scientific literacy and science education in American public schools (‘state schools’) by working with teachers, curriculum developers and textbook writers.

Full-text (pdf) >> 

The Next Section: ID Continued
Back to the Table of Contents