An idea that provoked, but didn't deliver
Kenneth R. Miller

Posted on Sun, Dec. 25, 2005

(Kenneth R. Miller is a professor of biology at Brown University and was the first witness in the Dover intelligent-design trial)

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.

As the Dover trial showed, ID is nothing more than old-fashioned creationism, distinguished only by its advocates' willingness to be disingenuous about its origins, motivations and goals. But that does little to detract from its appeal. Advocates of ID, such as Sen. Rick Santorum (R., Pa.), oppose evolution not because of its scientific flaws, but because they see it as a cultural and moral threat.

In an Aug. 4 interview on National Public Radio, Santorum stated that "if we are the result of chance, if we're simply a mistake of nature, then that puts a different moral demand on us. In fact, it doesn't put a moral demand on us - than if in fact we are a creation of a being that has moral demands." In other words, the problem with evolution, in his view, is that it invalidates morality because it does away with God.

Santorum, of course, has recently retracted his support of those involved in the Dover case. But his principled opposition to evolution remains.

That kind of visceral opposition isn't going to respond to scientific evidence, and it certainly isn't going to be affected by a judge's ruling - even from a judge whom the senator himself supported for the bench.

Nationwide, ID is on the march, and Dover notwithstanding, it's winning. The ID movement has rewritten science-education standards in Kansas, gained the support of legislators in more than a dozen states, and regularly pressures teachers, administrators and textbook publishers to weaken the coverage of evolution. Dover represents a substantial victory for science, but the greater war goes on. And, like many wars, this one results from a profound misunderstanding.

The great fiction that powers the ID movement is that evolution is inherently antireligious. By emphasizing the material nature of evolutionary science, ID advocates are convinced that they can force their antiscience ideas into the classroom in the name of balance and fairness. Once there, they are convinced, students in a society as religious as the United States will surely turn their backs on mainstream science, embracing ID and strengthening their faith in God. Any harm in that?

Why, none at all, if we are prepared to abdicate world leadership by raising a generation of young people so mistrustful of science that they turn their backs on the scientific community and abandon science as a way of knowing about the world and improving the human condition.

A deeper understanding of Western religion in general, and the Christian message in particular, would end this war and blunt the attempts of the anti-evolution movement to divide Americans along cultural lines. As conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last month, "How ridiculous to make evolution the enemy of God. What could be more elegant, more simple, more brilliant, more economical, more creative, indeed more divine than a planet with millions of life forms, distinct and yet interactive, all ultimately derived from accumulated variations in a single double-stranded molecule, pliable and fecund enough to give us mollusks and mice, Newton and Einstein?" What indeed? For just as Darwin said, there is "grandeur in this view of life," and a deeper understanding of the ways in which "endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful have been and are being evolved" can only deepen our faith and enhance our respect for the unity of scientific and spiritual knowledge.

On this Christmas season, I thank the Lord for the wonderful people of Dover who fought for this decision, and I hope the good news of its wisdom will spread throughout the land.

Kenneth R. Miller (Kenneth_Miller@ is co-author with Joseph S. Levine of "Biology," the biology textbook now used in Dover High School. He has also written "Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution."

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