Miller, Scott, Forrest and Dover 15 Years Later

By no means do I wish to diminish the very thorough and skilled job done by Miller, Scott, Forrest and the rest of the team supporting the Dover plaintiffs. However, that job was made easier by the actions of the creationists themselves. The school board members promoting ID came across as self-righteous and dishonest bullies and had made little effort to hide their religious motivations prior to the trial. The Intelligent Design activists also left a trail of evidence that clearly tied ID to creationism (cf. “Cdesign Proponentsists”). If the creationists had not been so careless and stupid, would persuading the judge to accept a philosophical view of science that is, at the very least, subject to scholarly disagreement have been sufficient to obtain a favorable verdict?


It’s important, if you’re going to try to advance an anti-science cultural warfare agenda through litigation, to pick your test case carefully. Kitzmiller was certainly not a good test case for ID, because it was very important that the school officials simply be fooled into thinking that ID was science rather than adopting it for religious reasons. Could a better test case have been found, though?

It isn’t as though one cannot advance non-mainstream views through surgically precise litigation. It can be done. I have done it, in the interesting interface between environmental/land-use law and civil rights law. But it does require that the crafting of the dispute be in the hands of the lawyers from the earliest, and that the people who are crafting the dispute really do understand the legal doctrines with which they are working very well.

I think it would have been tough to come up with a District willing to do what Dover did but which, instead of being motivated by religious hatred, was motivated by secular concerns. And the DI really hasn’t done much work that could plausibly fool actual educators – the DI’s work has always been shaped to the ears of its fundie donor base. So who the heck was going to do this?

What might have been easier, but harder to make any meaningful headway with, would be to find a teacher who was willing to teach creationism and who was willing to lie (ah, but I repeat myself!), and who met with some sort of administrative or employment discipline as a result. If incriminating recordings were not made, and the exact parameters of what the teacher did or didn’t teach were somewhat unclear, it would make good “fundie as victim of the evil secular state” fodder for the base as well as putting the onus of justifying state action upon the defenders of education rather than its attackers. It’s easy to slip up in phrasing, and say something that could plausibly be misinterpreted not as a demand that actual science be taught, but as a disapproval of a teacher’s religious views.

But, as I’ve said, that’s harder to make meaningful headway with. Every individual case of such a character will turn on its own particular facts, and such cases are liable not to produce a court endorsing ID as science so much as a muddle over whether teaching some witches’ brew of science and non-science is somehow a recipe for critical thinking.

The DI arrived at what is probably its best-case outcome: giving plausible litigation cover to religious enemies of science by way of “teach-the-controversy” laws couched in terms of academic freedom. These things are nasty – they suggest, license and enable unlawful behavior by a mosquito fleet of creationists, and as it always is with a mosquito fleet, sinking one vessel does not solve the problem. It puts the litigation burden on defenders of the constitution and means that when parents aren’t up in arms – or aren’t aware – over the wrongs being done to their children, nobody’s behavior will be corrected.

But the problem with a bad idea is that once you unleash it, it spreads to greater fools, who spread it to still greater fools, and so on. So when the DI is trying to craft a creationism-in-the-schools strategy, it’s natural that a handful of angry fundies somewhere should latch onto it and say “that’s a great idea and we oughta try it,” whether that’s the best test case or not.

So, here you have a culture war, and it has to be fought, by the anti-culture side, as a guerrilla conflict. Bring all of your field artillery out and line it up and face your adversary on the open field, and you cannot win. When the Dover Area School District collected all the peashooters it had confiscated from children over the decades, and sought to form a line of battle, a wiser DI would have said, “Hell, no, we won’t go.” But a world with a wise DI would be a very different world from ours, and almost unimaginable.


@Faizal_Ali this is a great article.

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