Kitzmiller V. Dover (pt. 1 of 2)

And now for my first deep consideration of legal fights in the Creation-Evolution struggle.  I’ll discuss Kitzmiller v. Dover here, and then delve into other key trials in future posts.  Kitzmiller v. Dover, fought over a Dover, Pennsylvania school board’s decision to read a disclaimer in classrooms in the school district claiming that evolutionary theory “has gaps” and referring students to copies of the textbook supplement Of Pandas and People to learn about intelligent design, which is proposed as an alternate theory to Darwinian evolution.  The text of the disclaimer is as follows:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolutionand 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.” (in Kitzmiller v. Dover memorandum opinion, p. 1-2.  for link, click here).

The adoption of this disclaimer followed a 6-3 vote in which it was decided that:

“Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design. Note: Origins of Life is not taught” (Kitzmiller v. Dover memorandum Opinion p. 1).

These statements set up the controversy.  Here, we have a school district deciding to challenge the teaching of evolution.  With the development of the classroom disclaimer,we have a strategy.  However, there is more to Dover than the adoption of standards challenging evolution.  In this instance, we have the documentation to provide a good look at the forces governing this decision.

The decision to challenge evolution in Dover’s classrooms was pushed heavily by schoolboard member Bill Buckingham and fellow board member Alan Bonsell (as described in detail in Lebo 2008, Chapman 2008, and Humes 2007). Buckingham, during the course of debating the teaching of evolution, is quoted as stating “Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross.  Can’t someone take a stand for him?” (Numbers p. 392).  This statement, by a leader of the push to challenge evolution in Dover’s classroom suggests a religious rationale for this challenge.  Other sources of information (for example, the fact that the Thomas More Law Center, the self-declared “sword and shield  for people of faith” offered legal protection if the school board were to challenge evolution around July 2004; the vote to challenge evolution passed October 18, 2004, and the disclaimer was published November 19th 2004 (see here for general background)) confirm this suggestion.

However, the Dover school board was not unanimous in their decision to challenge evolution, as suggested by the 6-3 vote over changing the district’s standards.  Following this vote, the three board members who moved against the measure  (Jeff Brown, Casey Brown, and Noel Wenrich) resigned (Humes 98-99).  Casey Brown’s resignation statement can shed some more light on the religious tensions present on the Dover school board in 2004:

“Sometimes in order to fulfill the requirements of our office, we must put aside our personal feelings and beliefs.  It is not always an easy thing to do—but it is what we must do in order to properly perform the duties and responsibilities of our office.

In the past year, regretfully, there seems to have been a shift in the attitudes and direction of this board.  There has been a slow but steady marginalization of some board members.  Our opinions are no longer valued or listened to.  Our contributions have been minimized or not acknowledged at all.  A measure of that is the fact that I myself have been twice asked within the past year if I was “born again.:  No one has, nor should have the right, to ask that of a fellow board member.  An individual’s religious beliefs should have no impact on his or her ability to serve as a school board director, nor should a person’s beliefs be used as a yardstick to measure the value of that service.  However, it has become increasingly evident that is the direction the board has now chosen to go, holding a certain religious belief is of paramount importance.

Because of this, it is quite clear that I can no longer effectively function as a member of this board…” (quoted in Humes 99)

This statement confirms the importance of religious belief with regards to the operation of the board. Ironically, had the school board not been taken to court, it is entirely possible that social studies curriculae in the district would have been altered to challenge the separation between Church in State in America (Humes 100, Lebo 60).  Largely as a result of this separation, the Dover School Board lost Kitzmiller v. Dover.

Following the passage of the anti-evolution measure, with teachers refusing to read the statement and parents such as Tammy Kitzmiller unwilling to have their children’s education compromised (Lebo 48-53), in cooperation with the National Center for Science Education, the ACLU, attorney Eric Rothschild, and others, filed suit… 

Works Cited:

Chapman, M.  40 Days and 40 Nights: Darwin, Intelligent Design, God, oxyContin, and other Oddities on Trial in Pennsylvania.  Collins.  New York. 2008

 Humes, E. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul. HarperCollins.  New York. 2007

Lebo, L.  The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America.The New Press, New York, 2008

Numbers, RL.  The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2006

Explore posts in the same categories: 1900s, evolution, history of science, legal battles, Science and Pseudoscience

5 Comments on “Kitzmiller V. Dover (pt. 1 of 2)”

  1. johnG Says:

    Nice essay. A couple typos:

    As a Standards-driven district, class instructino (last para of first quote)

    direction the board has now choasen (2nd to last para of last quote).


  2. ricky Says:

    wwwwooooooowwwwww… goodd.. thanks from your info brother

  3. Carissa Madsen Says:

    Two more corrections over looked:
    “and the disclaimer was published November 19th 2004 (see here for general backgroud)) confirm this suggestion. ” MISSING N ^

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: