The month of December is when we celebrate Kitzmas. In a few short weeks it will be the fifteenth anniversary of the decision on 20 December 2005 by Judge John E. Jones III in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. It was an absolute triumph of law and science over theocracy and ignorance.
It’s a bit early to start our celebrations, but we were reminded that this is the big month by one of our clandestine operatives, who called our attention to an article at the website of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It’s titled Expert Witness: Glenn Branch Of The National Center For Science Education Reflects On The Pa. Intelligent Design Trial. The article is an interview with Branch who, as you know, is deputy director of NCSE. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis, and occasional Curmudgeonly interjections that look [like this]:
Q. On Dec. 20, we are going to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the victory in Kitzmiller v. Dover. What do you think has been this case’s most enduring legacy over the last decade and a half?
Branch: Kitzmiller was, as NCSE’s former executive director (and current Americans United trustee) Eugenie C. Scott recently observed, the last gasp of the creationist strategy of balancing the teaching of evolution with the teaching of a creationist alternative. The strategy started taking form in the late 1960s, after the Scopes-era bans on teaching evolution were legislatively repealed (as in Tennessee) or struck down as unconstitutional (as in Arkansas and Mississippi).
What ensued was a series of attempts to require the teaching of various supposed alternatives to evolution – biblical creationism, creation science, intelligent design – for the ostensible sake of balance. Over time these became less and less overtly religious and more and more vague, but their underlying creationism was always visible, especially through the scrutiny of a federal court. Since Kitzmiller, formal attempts to balance the teaching of evolution have been increasingly rare.
We’re skipping a bit. Then:
Q. The school board in Dover made the decision to advocate for the teaching of intelligent design in the school district’s science classes. How did intelligent design evolve from the teaching of creationism and how are these concepts associated?
Branch: Intelligent design is not so much a coherent view as it is a branding strategy for creationism in general. [Well said!] It emerged with a couple of religious organizations in Texas in the early 1980s. Hoping to become a credible rival to the Institute for Creation Research, then the dominant voice for creationism in the United States, these organizations started work on what would become Of Pandas and People (published in 1989), intended for use as a supplementary textbook in high school biology classes. Of Pandas and People sought to maintain neutrality about issues that divide creationists, such as the age of the earth, while mounting a sustained, and scientifically unwarranted, attack on the evidence for evolution.
It was Of Pandas and People that the Dover Area School Board saw fit to commend to the attention of its high school students in a disclaimer statement adopted pursuant to the October 2004 policy. During the trial, it was revealed that terms like “creation” in drafts of Of Pandas and People were replaced with terms like “design” in the published version, with the replacement occurring in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 1987 decision in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional. Not presented during the trial – although it was tempting! – was the occurrence of a transitional form in one draft, caused by a faulty search-and-replace: “cdesign proponentists.”
Skipping some more, here’s the last question and answer:
Q. NCSE monitors proposed legislation in state legislatures. What form has this typically taken after Kitzmiller?
Branch: The successor to the creationist balancing strategy is the belittling strategy – requiring or allowing teachers to misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial, as a theory in crisis, supposedly in special need of critical analysis or examination of its “weaknesses” as well as its strengths. At least 80 bills have been introduced since 2004 proposing versions of the belittling strategy, with three enacted (in Mississippi in 2006, Louisiana in 2008 and Tennessee in 2012).
During the same period, bills to require or allow the teaching of creationism have occasionally appeared, despite the court decisions on the unconstitutionality of their provisions, but these are increasingly rare. NCSE and Americans United have collaborated to oppose such bills whenever and wherever they arise – and doubtless will continue to do so.
That’s enough to encourage you to click over there to read the whole thing. As you probably know, in the early months of this humble blog your Curmudgeon wrote a series of posts about the Kitzmiller case, starting with Kitzmiller v. Dover: Is ID Science? At the end of that post it links to the next in our series, and so on through them all.
Okay, dear reader, that’s all we have today about Kitzmiller. We’ll undoubtedly have more to say as Kitzmas approaches, so stay tuned to this blog!
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