Topeka — A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday ruled that mention of intelligent design in science class is unconstitutional and issued a strongly worded criticism of the ID movement that was behind the adoption of controversial science standards in Kansas.
The question now becomes what effect, if any, will the extinction of intelligent design in Dover, Pa., have in Kansas where a 6-4 majority on the State Board of Education has instituted science standards that were formed by ID advocates and open up evolution to criticism. ID postulates that life's complexity is evidence of a supernatural designer.
Mainstream scientists who support evolution have an idea: Overturn the Kansas standards and reinstate evolution as the foundation of the scientific study of life.
"The message is loud and clear," said Leonard Krishtalka, director of the Biodiversity Institute at Kansas University. "Evolution is science; creationism and intelligent design is not."
Krishtalka said he would ask the education board to reconsider the science standards, which don't take effect until 2007 and are currently mired in copyright problems after leading science organizations refused to let the board use their legally protected language.
Evolution in Kansas
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"I think the board would go a long way to serving the people of Kansas and its students by rescinding its recommendations on the science curriculum with regard to evolution and supernatural alternatives," he said.
But supporters of the standards said they had no intention of doing such a thing, and that the Dover case won't change anything in Kansas.
"It shouldn't (have any effect)," board chairman Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, said of the decision. "We don't have intelligent design in the science standards."
Abrams said he didn't plan on asking the board's attorney for an opinion on whether the Dover case had legal ramifications in Kansas.
But Topeka attorney Pedro Irigonegaray, who represented mainstream scientists in the months-long battle before the education board, said the 139-page judicial opinion from Pennsylvania covered much of the same ground as Kansas' debate.
"Now a federal court recognizes as a matter of law that intelligent design is a religious alternative masquerading as a scientific theory," Irigonegaray said.
"It is a decision which should be considered by every district in this state that may consider the introduction into the science curriculum of intelligent design," he said.
Other opponents of the Kansas science standards said the Dover decision's impact will be felt politically instead of legally. Five of the six education board members who supported the standards face re-election next year.
"The voters of Kansas will review their decision in November of 2006," said board member Bill Wagnon, D-Topeka, whose district includes Lawrence and who opposes intelligent design. "It's just another black eye in the efforts of the majority of the school board," he said.
ID called religious
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III dissected intelligent design as the latest in a series of movements by Christian groups, cloaked in scientific-sounding names, to try to debunk the theory of evolution formulated by Charles Darwin and replace it with religious doctrine.
"ID's religious nature is evident because it involves a supernatural designer," Jones wrote. It has no business in science class because it violates the separation of church and state, he said.
He noted that intelligent design proponents in Dover focused on "gaps" and "problems" with evolution as part of "creationist, religious strategies that evolved from earlier forms of creationism."
In the Dover case, the previous school board had adopted a policy that required a statement be read in biology classes that evolution had problems and that ID was an alternative explanation of the origins of life. Prior to the judicial ruling, the Dover board that adopted that policy was voted out of office.
The Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which pushes intelligent design, blasted Jones.
"The Dover decision is an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea and even to prevent criticism of Darwinian evolution through government-imposed censorship rather than open debate, and it won't work," said John West, associate director of the Center for Science and Culture at Discovery Institute.
Anticipating charges that he was an "activist judge," Jones wrote of the case, "this came to us as a 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."
He blasted the former Dover board members for "breathtaking inanity" and accused several of them of lying during the trial to conceal their true motive, which was religious.
Don Hineman, head of Kansas Alliance for Education, which was formed in part to field candidates to oppose those who voted for the anti-evolution standards, said the Pennsylvania decision sounded "reasonable."
"I would hope the State Board of Education would pay attention to that even though I don't think they will," he said.