Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science?

This is the first in a series of short articles discussing the excellently written and superbly reasoned opinion, issued on 20 December 2005, by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller et al. v Dover Area School District et al. (that link is to an unofficial text version of the opinion).

No excerpts can substitute for the overpowering impression to be gained by reading the entire opinion, which we highly recommend. The court’s website with the 139 page opinion (pdf file) is here: TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. There is also a Wikipedia article about the case, with a great deal of worthwhile background information.

This article will deal with the limited issue of whether Intelligent Design (“ID”) is science. We will be quoting extensively from the court’s opinion. In order not to interrupt the narrative, where the judge’s opinion makes references to the trial transcript of witnesses’ testimony, we will replace such clutter with [transcript reference] or something similar. Text appearing in red was colored by us for emphasis. Sometimes we will define a term by placing the definition in brackets.

With those obvious exceptions, everything following this paragraph is quoted from the court’s opinion:

Is ID Science?

After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are:

(1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980′s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community.

As we will discuss in more detail below, it is additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the subject of testing and research.


ID is predicated on supernatural causation, as we previously explained and as various expert testimony revealed. [transcript references omitted] ID takes a natural phenomenon and, instead of accepting or seeking a natural explanation, argues that the explanation is supernatural. [transcript reference] Further support for the conclusion that ID is predicated on supernatural causation is found in the ID reference book to which ninth grade biology students are directed, Pandas. Pandas states, in pertinent part, as follows:

Darwinists object to the view of intelligent design because it does not give a natural cause explanation of how the various forms of life started in the first place. Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly, through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact – fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.


It is notable that defense [school board] experts’ own mission, which mirrors that of the IDM [the intelligent design movement] itself, is to change the ground rules of science to allow supernatural causation of the natural world, which the Supreme Court in Edwards and the court in McLean correctly recognized as an inherently religious concept. Edwards, 482 U.S. at 591-92; McLean, 529 F. Supp. at 1267. First, defense expert Professor Fuller agreed that ID aspires to “change the ground rules” of science and lead defense expert Professor Behe admitted that his broadened definition of science, which encompasses ID, would also embrace astrology. [record citations]. Moreover, defense expert Professor Minnich acknowledged that for ID to be considered science, the ground rules of science have to be broadened to allow consideration of supernatural forces. [record citation].


A final indicator of how ID has failed to demonstrate scientific warrant is the complete absence of peer-reviewed publications supporting the theory. Expert testimony revealed that the peer review process is “exquisitely important” in the scientific process. It is a way for scientists to write up their empirical research and to share the work with fellow experts in the field, opening up the hypotheses to study, testing, and criticism. [transcript reference]. In fact, defense expert Professor Behe recognizes the importance of the peer review process and has written that science must “publish or perish.” [transcript reference]. Peer review helps to ensure that research papers are scientifically accurately, meet the standards of the scientific method, and are relevant to other scientists in the field. [transcript reference]. Moreover, peer review involves scientists submitting a manuscript to a scientific journal in the field, journal editors soliciting critical reviews from other experts in the field and deciding whether the scientist has followed proper research procedures, employed up-to-date methods, considered and cited relevant literature and generally, whether the researcher has employed sound science.

The evidence presented in this case demonstrates that ID is not supported by any peer-reviewed research, data or publications. Both Drs. Padian and Forrest testified that recent literature reviews of scientific and medical-electronic databases disclosed no studies supporting a biological concept of ID. [transcript references]. On cross-examination, Professor Behe admitted that: “There are no peer reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.” [transcript reference]. Additionally, Professor Behe conceded that there are no peer-reviewed papers supporting his claims that complex molecular systems, like the bacterial flagellum, the blood-clotting cascade, and the immune system, were intelligently designed. [transcript references]. In that regard, there are no peer-reviewed articles supporting Professor Behe’s argument that certain complex molecular structures are “irreducibly complex.”[transcript reference]. In addition to failing to produce papers in peer-reviewed journals, ID also features no scientific research or testing. [transcript references].


To conclude and reiterate, we express no opinion on the ultimate veracity of ID as a supernatural explanation. However, we commend to the attention of those who are inclined to superficially consider ID to be a true “scientific” alternative to evolution without a true understanding of the concept the foregoing detailed analysis. It is our view that a reasonable, objective observer would, after reviewing both the voluminous record in this case, and our narrative, reach the inescapable conclusion that ID is an interesting theological argument, but that it is not science.

[The next article in this series is: Kitzmiller v. Dover: Who is the Intelligent Designer?]

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

add to del.icio.usAdd to Blinkslistadd to furlDigg itadd to ma.gnoliaStumble It!add to simpyseed the vineTailRankpost to facebook

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article