By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 22, 2005
A federal judge's ruling in Pennsylvania that "intelligent design" is religious fundamentalism dressed in the raiment of science has wounded a politically influential movement.
"It was a real disappointment," biochemist Michael J. Behe, who testified in the trial, said from his office at Lehigh University. "It's hard to say this chills the atmosphere, because if you're publicly known as an ID supporter you can already kiss your tenure chances goodbye. It doesn't help."
But Behe and other proponents of intelligent design emphasized that the court decision would not cast them into the political and cultural wilderness. They have pushed their theory, which holds that life is too complicated to have arisen without the hand of a supernatural creator, to the center of legislative debates in more than a dozen states, and they intend to keep it there.
Some politically influential backers of intelligent design warned that U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III, who was appointed by President Bush, so overreached that his ruling will outrage and inflame millions of conservative and religiously observant Americans.
"This decision is a poster child for a half-century secularist reign of terror that's coming to a rapid end with Justice Roberts and soon-to-be Justice Alito," said Richard Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and is a political ally of White House adviser Karl Rove. "This was an extremely injudicious judge who went way, way beyond his boundaries -- if he had any eyes on advancing up the judicial ladder, he just sawed off the bottom rung."
Jones's expansively written decision incorporated the scientific critique of intelligent design as pseudoscience in almost every detail. Legally, that decision is not binding in other states, such as Kansas, where the state school board is debating incorporating a critique of Darwinian evolution into its state standards.
Kansas officials said they would not mandate specific mention of intelligent design.
"The heart of science should be looking at the gaps in theory and trying to figure out what that's about," said Steve Abrams, a Kansas school board member. "This decision will perhaps have an effect on other states, but we don't talk about intelligent design."
Still, few advocates of intelligent design tried to hide their dismay with the judge's decision. The Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, wrote that the judge has a "pernicious understanding of what intellectual and religious freedom in America means." Some acknowledged that the decision foreshadows a much longer and more complicated battle for public acceptance.
Steve Fuller, a philosopher of science at the University of Warwick in England, whose politics tend to the left, said he worries that Jones's decision will drive an intriguing if still half-formed challenge to Darwinian theory out of the academy and into the theology schools. "The judge's ruling really puts the burden on the intelligent-design guys," Fuller said. "The judge's ruling that the theory is theology could become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Other advocates take comfort in history. They note that in 1925, lawyer Clarence Darrow argued and lost the Scopes "monkey trial," in which a teacher was convicted of teaching that man descended from apes. But in the long run, that loss became a victory for evolutionary theory.
William A. Dembski, a philosopher and math professor at Southern Seminary in Louisville, wrote in his Web log that the loss in Pennsylvania means thousands more young people "would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins." But he wrote that the future is bright.
"ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries," Dembski wrote. "The important thing is ID's intellectual vitality."