October 2005 Church & State | Editorial

A federal court last month began hearing arguments in a challenge to “intelligent design” in the Dover, Pa., public schools. Far from being a local skirmish, this case – brought by Americans United and its allies – has the potential to affect public education nationwide.

Religious Right advocates of creationism are determined to substitute their dogma for science in public schools across the country. They are on the march in Kansas, Ohio, Minnesota, Georgia and many other states.

Intelligent design (ID) is nothing more than an evolved form of creationism. Its backers know that traditional creationism has not fared very well in the courts over the years. The Supreme Court in 1968 invalidated an Arkansas law that made it illegal to teach evolution in public schools. A Louisiana statute that required “balanced treatment” between evolution and creationism was struck down in 1987. Backed by Religious Right legal groups, a few teachers have argued in court that they have a free-speech right to teach creationism. All have lost.

Frustrated, religious pressure groups have repackaged their viewpoint and began calling it intelligent design. But ID is little more than “creationism lite.” The idea behind ID is that life must have been created by a higher power – and the only plausible “designer” advocates offer is God.

ID advocates have desperately tried to present their ideas as scientific, but in their more honest moments in front of sympathetic audiences they give themselves away. One of the deans of the movement, law professor Phillip Johnson, has told gatherings of Religious Right groups that he wants to use ID to dethrone evolution and convince people to accept Jesus as their personal savior.

From this, one would conclude that the end result of studying ID is a religious conversion. An honest person recognizes that for what it is: theology, not science.

Because so much is at stake, the Dover case is being closely watched and has even garnered attention in the international media. Observers know that this lawsuit, if successful, will slam the schoolhouse door on the Religious Right and keep its narrow interpretation of religion from invading our science classrooms. They also realize this case will set an important precedent that could end up influencing public education nationwide.

The stakes are high, but the battle must be engaged. With the help and support of Americans who understand the importance of keeping public schools free from sectarian control, this crucial legal battle will be won.