February 3, 2006February 19, 2006Meeting Report

February 12, 2006

Darwin Day Celebration

Nicholas Matzke

The Evolutionary Origins of Intelligent Design

Nicholas Matzke

The event, sponsored by a variety of educational and freethought organizations including HAGSA, was held at the La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael. As it was last year, it was actually held on Darwin’s birthday—February 12.

The meeting began with an introduction by Paul Geisert. Mygna Futrell introduced the keynote speaker, Nicholas Matzke, of the National Center for Science Education (NCSC). Nicholas has Bachelors degrees in Biology and Chemistry and a Masters in Geography. He worked for the legal team for the plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case in Dover, PA. This case was a successful legal challenge to the introduction of the "intelligent design" (ID) concept into the biology courses in that town’s public high school.

A couple of years ago, the creationists on the Dover school board pushed through a proposal to teach ID as a scientific alternative to evolution in the biology curriculum. In the case of Kitzmiller, et al v. Dover School District, et al, the plaintiffs took the rational position that ID is a religious, not a scientific concept, and thus has no place in the science classes of a public school. ID proponents might accept some evolution and do not insist that the world is only 6,000 years old. However, since organisms and biological functions are so complex, they maintain that there is no way they could have originated through random mutation and Darwinian natural selection. There must have been a designer. Guess who is the designer? The judge, although an appointee of George W. Bush, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. Not only did he rule in their favor, he did so in terms strong enough that they exceeded their expectations. Last November, those creationists up for reelection were defeated. The result was a new school board that has since announced that it will not appeal the judge’s decision.

Nicholas Matzke went into the history of the creation-evolution legal battles, beginning with the Scopes "monkey trial" in Dayton, TN, in 1925. There was a lot of good publicity for the pro-evolution side in that case, but the creationists actually won in court. The result was a downgrading of or even total silence about evolution in American schools for decades, especially in southern states.

There was a revival of science education in the wake of Sputnik in 1957. However, anti-evolution laws remained on the books in some states. The pro-evolution side won in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), a case that challenged such a law. After that decision, "creationism" evolved into "creation science." This was challenged successfully in McLear vs. Arkansas (1981). In the case of Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), which challenged a Louisiana law, the United States Supreme Court ruled against "creation science." Justice Antonin Scalia dissented. The creationists then came up with the idea of "intelligent design." The text they used was that of "Of Pandas and People." The plaintiffs in the Kitzmiller case had the help of the ACLU, Americans United and the NCSC. The defendants had the support of the Thomas More Law Center. The plaintiffs were able to use subpoena power to obtain early drafts of "Of Pandas and People" and showed in court that wherever the original drafts had the word "creation," the book as published had the words "intelligent design." In addition, the arguments of Michael Behe, one of the leading ID proponents, were demolished in court.

The religious origin of the ID concept was made plain for all to see and the judge ruled accordingly.

In the question and answer period, Matzke suggested that, if the courts continue to reject ID, the next creationist buzz term may be "critical examination of evolution."

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder


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