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Judge’s public comments called activism for Darwinism

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)–Federal Judge John E. Jones III has been on the campaign trail –- not for political office, but in behalf of his ruling upholding Darwinism against Intelligent Design.

Jones has spoken to the Anti-Defamation League’s executive committee and at his college alma mater in Pennsylvania and given various interviews touting his December 2005 ruling in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board against the teaching of Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania public school biology courses.

Critics at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, meanwhile, describe Jones’ ruling and his public comments as a clear case of judicial activism, in addition to challenging the accuracy of various assertions Jones has made. The Discovery Institute is a proponent of the Intelligent Design theory that living organisms are so complex they must have been designed by a higher, but unspecified, intelligence.

Jones recounted in his Anti-Defamation League speech in February that the first sight of the crowd in his courtroom “almost took my breath away. In fact, it took me a few moments to compose myself as the trial started. I had never seen anything like it.”

As the attorney for the ACLU-assisted plaintiffs began his opening remarks, Jones said he was “gripped for the very first time with the thought that I might be presiding over something that, at least in its time, was viewed as not only historic, but was perhaps a newer version of the Scopes Monkey Trial. And I had a very palpable sense, a very curious sense, that I could be living history.”

He said if a movie of the Dover trial gets made, he’d like for his character to be played by Tom Hanks.

Before the trial, Jones told the media he had watched “Inherit the Wind” for historical and background context — the Hollywood version of the evolution-versus-creation trial of teacher John T. Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925.

In his ruling, Jones asserted that “no other tribunal in the United States is in a better position than are we to traipse into this controversial area” and that his decision “may prevent the obvious waste of judicial and other resources which would be occasioned by a subsequent trial.”

In his Anti-Defamation League speech, Jones underscored his ruling by stating, “It’s always risky business to divine what the Founding Fathers might think about current developments, but I’m certain, I’m entirely certain, that by deciding the Dover case the way that I did, I performed my duties as a district judge in exactly the way that the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created the federal judiciary in Article III of the Constitution.”

In a speech at his alma mater, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., Jones characterized the Founding Fathers as believing “that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry.”

“At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state,” Jones said in May.

John West, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told Baptist Press that Jones misspoke because reason and biblical thinking are inextricably related.

“This is a false antithesis because most of the Founders would have thought that reason and revelation say the same things,” West said. “And they talked about this a lot, particularly when it came to morality. If you know that something like theft, the things in the Ten Commandments are wrong, I mean you don’t have to be a Christian or Jew to know that theft or adultery is wrong. Reason rightly understood, rightly employed should also teach that and your conscience should teach that, and the Bible says it so they say the same thing.”

West and three other associates of the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin, David DeWolf and Jonathan Witt, have written a book, “Traipsing Into Evolution: Intelligent Design and the Kitzmiller vs. Dover Decision,” which depicts Jones as overstepping his bounds.

Jones, in his ruling, “writes as if he has the right and duty to decide the question of whether Intelligent Design is science for all other judges in the entire United States in the future and, thereby, to legislate the question for the whole country,” the Discovery Institute authors write.

And the authors claim that Jones erred in refusing to allow an appearance in the case by the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, publisher of the Intelligent Design textbook, “Of Pandas and People,” despite the fact that the book was a key element in the Dover controversy.

Attorneys Seth L. Cooper and Leonard G. Brown III, in an article titled, “A Textbook Case of Judicial Activism,” on the Discovery Institute’s website, add, “In an unusually long district court opinion spanning sixty pages in the federal supplement, Judge Jones reached far beyond the Dover board’s ID policy, far beyond the witnesses who testified and far beyond the evidence. In the process, he demonstrated why his refusal to allow FTE into the lawsuit was tragically flawed. Judge Jones demonized the theory of ID as well as FTE and ID theorists and proponents.”

Luskin and West said several scientists and academics who either support ID or encourage the study of curricula that assesses Darwinism’s scientific pros and cons, have faced persecution, up to and including the loss of their jobs before, during and after the Dover trial.

“The entire trial itself exacerbated the hostile climate toward Intelligent Design,” Luskin told Baptist Press. “In the year the trial took place, we saw a huge spike in the number of pro-ID scientists and academic scholars being persecuted at their universities.”

For example, University of Idaho President Tim White issued a memo forbidding any other theory of life than evolution from being taught in the university’s life, earth and physical science classes shortly before Scott Minnich, a microbiology professor at the university and proponent of Intelligent Design, was to testify at the Dover trial.

Hours after White’s letter reached students and staff, the Discovery Institute “blasted the order as an unconstitutional assault on academic freedom and free speech,” as the Associated Press put it. The letter was issued just a week before Eugenie C. Scott, an activist who has fought to segregate creationism and Intelligent Design from science classes, was due to speak at the university on the subject “Why Scientists Reject Intelligent Design.”

West asserted in his “Evolution News” blog that other professors around the country have also been persecuted in the fallout over the Intelligent Design issue in recent years. At George Mason University, a biology professor was suspended after discussing ID favorably in class; a Mississippi University for Women chemistry professor was removed as head of the division of natural sciences after presenting scientific criticisms of biological and chemical evolution to a seminar of honors students; a Minnesota high school biology teacher was removed from teaching the subject after expressing doubts about Darwin’s theory; and a Washington state high school biology teacher was forced out of two districts because he wanted to inform students about some of the scientific weaknesses of Darwin’s theory.

Currently, much of the Discovery Institute’s focus is to “see Intelligent Design develop as a scientific research program,” Luskin said. “We feel that the political climate right now is too hostile for it to be teachable.” But, he noted, “If an individual teacher is going to teach Intelligent Design at their own discretion, we think they should have the right to do that.”

As to public education, West said, “What we recommend and have recommended [is] that since students are expected to study Darwinism, make sure that they understand the scientific criticisms that are already well attested in the peer review journal literature. Like the problems with mutation, the problems with understanding how you can get the Cambrian explosion through a Darwin process and how there’s a real problem trying to extrapolate micro evolution to get macro evolution. These are things that evolutionists talk about, but they are really censored from the textbooks.”

The controversy that led to Jones’ ruling began when the Harrisburg-area Dover Area School Board voted 6-3 in October 2004 to make freshman biology classes aware of Intelligent Design by having the following statement read to them:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

“Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

“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.

`“With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.”

The school board action was challenged by 11 parents who were assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Jones, in his ruling, equated Intelligent Design with creationism and said the school board violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause forbidding government-endorsed religion.

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  • James Patterson