In 2005, the constitutionality of teaching “intelligent design” was tested in court in the landmark case Kitzmiller v. Dover. The lawsuit was triggered by the school board in rural Dover, Pennsylvania, voting to require a statement to be read in science classes which said, in part:
Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book Of Pandas and People is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.
The ensuing trial centered around the question of whether intelligent design was an inherently religious idea, and thus barred by the First Amendment from being promoted by public schools. For advocates of ID, as well as defenders of evolution, this was a crucial battle.
A ruling that ID was religion, although it would only be binding law in that region of Pennsylvania, would set a precedent that could influence courts across the U.S. and deal a fatal blow to the nascent intelligent-design movement. Conversely, a ruling that ID passed constitutional muster would almost certainly lead to a rash of copycat actions by school boards in conservative and rural districts throughout the country, greatly weakening the teaching of evolution.
One of the key issues at trial focused on whether intelligent design was just another form of creationism. The Supreme Court ruled in 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, that teaching creationism in public schools was unconstitutional because it represented an establishment of religion. Naturally, the Dover school board and their legal representation, the Thomas More Law Center, argued strenuously that ID was a brand-new and genuinely scientific movement that had nothing to do with creationism. As defense lawyer Patrick Gillen said in his opening statement:
The board believed that intelligent design was not creationism. They knew what that was, the Book of Genesis. They concluded that intelligent design was science. They looked at the text of Pandas and People. That’s not the Book of Genesis.
…The evidence will show that Dr. Behe takes these positions and posits his thesis of irreducible complexity pointing to design not because evolutionary theory is inconsistent with his religious beliefs. It’s not. Not because he believes in creationism. He doesn’t. And as he’ll explain, creationism and intelligent design are two very different things.
…Dr. Fuller will explain that intelligent design theory is not creationism. It is not inherently religious.
…Taken together, this expert testimony will confirm the defendants’ judgment by showing that intelligent design theory is not creationism. Indeed, it does not even require the action of a supernatural creator, that intelligent design is not religion or inherently religious, that intelligent design theory is science.
The accuracy of this statement would be put to the test in one of the trial’s decisive issues, which concerned Of Pandas and People, the pro-ID textbook mentioned in the board’s statement. Pandas, it turns out, went through several editions: in its first (1983) edition, it was titled Creation Biology, then renamed in 1986 to Biology and Creation, then renamed again in 1987 to Biology and Origins, finally becoming Of Pandas and People. The plaintiffs subpoenaed the book’s publisher, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, to obtain these prior drafts, and found something amazing.
The earlier drafts, as you might expect from the titles, made repeated references to creationism. But in the wake of the Edwards decision, the book underwent a revision: the term “creationism” was replaced – literally replaced, as in the find-and-replace function of a word processor – with the term “intelligent design”. And in one draft, a transitional fossil was preserved:
Clearly, intelligent design is just a retitled form of creationism. What more compelling evidence of this fact could you ask for than the term “cdesign proponentsists”?
The evidence of ID’s creationist antecedents was cited in the strong ruling by U.S. district judge John E. Jones, which struck down the Dover board’s policy as unconstitutional and lambasted them for deceptive practices in trying to disguise their religious beliefs as science. To this day, the ID movement has never responded to this devastating evidence – although they’re hard at work on a new edition of Pandas, now retitled (again) to The Design of Life. How many times will they try this strategy before they learn that you can’t get around the Constitution just by rebranding yourself?