Skeptic » Reading Room » Merry Kitzmas! The 10th Anniversary of the Dover Decision and the Demise of Intelligent Design

The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine

Merry Kitzmas

Merry Kitzmas! The 10th Anniversary of the Dover Decision and the Demise of Intelligent Design

Merry Kitzmas

Sunday, December 20, marked the 10th anniversary of Judge John Jones’ decision in the landmark Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District case, better known as the court case that finally put intelligent design (ID) creationism on trial. The case began in 2004 when creationists on the Dover, Pennsylvania, school board tried to sneak intelligent design creationist material from the Discovery Institute in Seattle into the school curriculum. The science teachers rebelled, as did a number of parents who became plaintiffs in the case. It was finally brought to trial on Sept. 26, 2005, and the trial lasted 40 days and 40 nights before the judge received the case for his deliberation.

During the course of the trial, the witnesses for intelligent design creationism were repeatedly exposed for their bad science, and the documents that were introduced show the clear imprint of having been recycled from older creationist documents. The most striking evidence of this was the discovery of different editions of the textbook Of Pandas and People. Early drafts were full of conventional creationism, but when a federal case struck down young-earth creationism for the final time, the authors just cut and paste a few phrases here and there to remove the references to “God”, “creation”, and “creationism”. In one place, the plaintiffs’ legal team exposed a telltale palimpsest: the phrase “cdesign proponentsists”, where the phrase “design proponents” has been clumsily and incompletely pasted over the word “creationists”.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys also brought together a stellar cast of scientists and philosophers and teachers, all of whom clearly showed that intelligent design creationism was just the religious dogma of creationism disguised with the obvious references to God removed. The most damaging testimony, however, came from creationist school board members Bill Buckingham and Alan Bonsell, who were confronted with the many statements they had made in the past where they clearly stated their religious motivations for introducing intelligent design to the Dover schools, and perjured themselves by denying their creationist motivations during the trial.

Federal Judge John E. Jones III (a conservative church-going Republican appointed by George W. Bush) took most of November and December to review the case and render a verdict. When it came on December 20, I remember being electrified at the news. It was a slam-dunk total victory for the side of science. Judge Jones wrote:

After a searching review of the record and applicable case law, 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 1980s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community. …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. Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.

In particular, he found their tactics to be dishonest and deceitful:

ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.

Nor did he mince words about the perjury of Buckingham and Bonsell:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy….The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Once the decision was announced, the creationists and their sympathizers howled in anger and disbelief, and blamed the decision on “liberal activist judges” (despite Judge Jones’ conservative background). Judge Jones received many death threats, and had to have round-the-clock protection for a while. I eventually got to meet Judge Jones and shake his hand and thank him at the Geological Society of America meeting in 2010 when he spoke to geologists and paleontologists on the fifth anniversary of the decision.

Eventually, the controversy died down, and the poor citizens of Dover (who voted out the creationists and voted in a scientifically-literate school board) got stuck with the legal bills of the trial that their foolish predecessors had caused.

Since the Dover decision, the Discovery Institute keeps on cranking out books and literature and propaganda. As Nick Matzke writes:

Of course, the Discovery Institute is still around, still desperately trying to re-write history, claiming that they never supported teaching ID in public schools (when they clearly did, as even the Thomas More Law Center noted), that they never supported what the school board in Dover was doing (never mind that it was the DI’s care package of ID materials, particularly Icons of Evolution stuff, that ginned up the school board in the first place, which was exactly the intent of all of the emotional language about “fraud” etc. in Icons), that the Dover Area School Board was a bad place for a test case because of obvious religious motivations (never mind that ID is and always has been mostly a wing of apologetics for conservative evangelicals, and in fact that audience is still the only one where ID events, books, etc. have much of an audience today), and that ID isn’t creationism relabeled.

Now the Discovery Institute is trying to put on a brave face and claim that “intelligent design” is alive and well. Last week their site had a long post bragging about their “accomplishments” in the past ten years, which is a monument to special pleading and selective misuse of facts. They mostly brag about how their lawyers have won nuisance suits against real scientists and real museums who crossed them, and about their books (mostly by Stephen Meyer) which have been roundly criticized and mostly ignored by the real scientific community for their scientific incompetence, dishonesty, and outright deception. (See my review of Stephen Meyer’s latest book).

And what about their actual scientific research program? Back in the late 1990s when the Discovery Institute was founded, their “Wedge Document” proposed to get 100 scientific articles published in the next 10 years. Now, almost 20 years later, their latest post touts their “80 peer-reviewed publications” as if it’s some great accomplishment. Heck, most productive individual scientists have at least that many papers, and the Discovery Institute is a giant propaganda mill with many contributors. In fact, even I have over 300 peer-reviewed publications, almost four times their total, all by myself. Moreover, if you look through the list in this week’s Discovery Institute post it is almost entirely papers for their own house journal Bio-Complexity, or sleazy unreviewed online fringe sites like the Journal of Cosmology, or some of these other predatory online journals that will publish anything for a fee. Only one or two articles are found in reputable journals, and the titles of those articles indicate that their content isn’t really about ID at all. (There is also the infamous 2010 Meyer “Cambrian explosion” paper in the tiny, obscure Journal of the Biological Society of Washington, which creationist editor Richard Sternberg snuck in over the objections of reviewers).

What about the Discovery Institute’s claim that ID creationism is alive and well? There are several ways to evaluate it. For one thing, not one school district has attempted to introduce the ID creationist curriculum to their schools since the Dover case. Judge Jones’ legal reasoning was so airtight that no other creationists running a school district has found a way around it, and no lawyer dares take the case to court again. Instead, they have shifted tactics, as creationists do every time they are beaten in court. Over the past decade the creationist strategy has been to get schools to debate the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution (but not any other area of science), or get them to “teach the controversy” or push deceptively titled “academic freedom” bills that allow teachers to propagate any dogma they like without interference. These measures have been implemented in a few Bible Belt states like Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee, but by and large most of the efforts to push creationism in most schools across the country have been defeated—thanks especially to the tiny but hardworking group at the National Center for Science Education.

Google Trends search by Nick Matzke of the mentions of ID creationism since 2003. There was a lot of Internet chatter about it in 2004 and 2005, then it dropped off the radar after the Dover decision. (Courtesy N. Matzke).

Perhaps the best indication of how the buzz over ID creationism has died is the evidence of the Internet chatter about it. It was the hottest topic around during the period from 2004–2005, and made the cover of Time magazine, and was endorsed by President Bush. As Nick Matzke discovered when he did a search using Google Trends, after 2005 the mentions of ID dropped off dramatically, and it has had almost no buzz since then except for the yammering from the Discovery Institute. Instead, the main face of creationism has shifted to the young-earth creationist Ken Ham and his Answers in Genesis organization in Kentucky, although there are lots of signs that he is overleveraged on junk bonds as he attempts to build his silly Noah’s ark tourist attraction.

After spending nearly all my life and professional career battling creationism without results, it seemed like there is no hope for change. But perhaps there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all. No amount of publishing scientific books and articles and blog posts, and battling creationists in classrooms and debates and school boards has done any more than slow down their attempts to make inroads in science education. Instead, the thing that is killing creationism is the scary words and overbearing tactics of fundamentalists when they finally gained power in a few states. Finally, people saw what they could do when they were able to enact their right-wing agenda against evolution, climate change, abortion, women’s rights,  gay rights, minority rights, and tried to run their states as evangelical theocracies. As many polls have shown, the younger generations (especially Gen X and the Millennials) are fast becoming the least religious and most secular American generation in history, and rejecting not only conservative religion, but the entire conservative agenda against science, women, gays, and minorities.

Even more interesting are poll numbers that show that about 50–80% of these young people fully accept evolution of not only animals but also humans (depending on how the questions are worded). As the secularization in the developed countries of northern Europe and Asia has shown, once a region becomes more secular, and religion loses hold of the younger generation, it never regains its former strength. Ironically, the thing that most doomed creationism was not science or good education; it was the overreaching when evangelicals finally got hold of the levers of political power and scared the future generations away from their beliefs. END


  1. John Richards says:

    Well written!
    Excellent article.

  2. Robert Price says:

    Kudos to judge Jones for having the intelligence, fair-mindedness, and objectivity to render the verdict that he had. This especially in light of his own political and religious persuasions.

    The fact that the Intelligent Design faction used faulty and duplicitous means in the case
    strongly emphasizes the fact that their main goal was to advance their agenda, rather than honestly and openly looking at the issue.

  3. Antonio Nafarrate says:

    Dr. Behe author of the book “Darwin’s Black Box”, claims that Evolution can not make a complex molecule such as ATP Synthase (a Molecular Rotary Motor that spins at some 10000RPM) unless it does something useful to be retained. He compares it to a mouse trap whose parts are useless until is wholly assembled. In 1989 I published a paper anticipating a molecule with these properties to explain the “errors”(Missweisung) in the direction pointing of dancing Bees. Sir John Walker FRS and Nobel Laureate (Chemistry 1997) described the structure of ATP Synthase in 1993 *Science”. The internal rotor acts as a spinning top “precessing” around the local direction of gravity and accurately acting as a Plumb line and not as a Gyroscope whose angular momentum will be conserved and pointing always to the same location in space. The spinning top angular momentum receives energy from the torque imposed by the rotation of the earth and rotates with it at the rate of 15 degrees per hour. That fact allowed me to propose that dancing Bees “know” from inside the Beehive that the Sun is moving at that rate. I think that the Bees are Geocentric.
    Back to the case “Kitzmiller Vs. Dover” the detective work performed by Dr. Barbara Forrest was outstanding, A+ in my book.
    My paper about Inertial Animal Navigation has just been accepted to be presented at the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) in London on April 2016. Essentially I will presenting my 1989 old paper that was not believed at that time.. One last comment was the defeat of State Senator Rick Santorum who supported the ID believers.

  4. Glen Olives Thompson says:

    Great article. I particularly like the fact that creationists have been called out on the canard that they only want to “teach the controversy” of “evolutionary theory.” There is no controversy to teach. Gravity is a scientific theory too, but one doesn’t see a movement to teach alternative theories of gravitation, or any other scientific theory, for that matter. I teach at a Catholic university in Mexico, and the official position of the Church is the acceptance of evolution by natural selection as a scientific fact. This particular form of hillbilly religious fundamentalism seems to be unique to America and small patches of Middle Eastern and North African Muslim countries. Odd bedfellows indeed.

    • Bob Pease says:

      “This particular form of hillbilly religious fundamentalism seems to be unique to America and small patches of Middle Eastern and North African Muslim countries. Odd bedfellows indeed.”

      the common bedroom is “Dominionism”

      This is the belief that your pardicular social/relogious ideology
      is “God’s Plan” for Humanity

      “Cujus Regni non erit finis” Forever and ever Handel etc.

      Imposed on this is a frightening concept taught by many Christian Fundies called “BURTHEN”
      meaning that because you are given the gift of salvation you have a corresponding BURDEN to convert others.

  5. Tzindaro says:

    The religious creationists are wrong and have no business bringing their religious doctrines into a scientific discussion. But there are also non-religious, atheist creationists and their arguments rest on observations and replocable experiments, not on religion. As an atheist, and being militantly against all forms of religion and mysticism, I have seen many times that life is a perfectly natural phenomenon that will self-organize directly from non-living matterials whenever and wherever the conditions are right for it to form and survive.

    New living organisms constantly form directly from inorganic or dead organic matter under modern, everyday conditions in oceans, ponds, swamps, and even in your front lawn. The scientific community has been blinded to these events by a few poorly done experiments done before rigorous scientific methods were developed and still refuses to admit the life can form under modern conditions.

    In fact, the accepted concept of evolution, which has been rasied to the status of a dogma by scientists, is really a copy of the Christian belief, namely, that all life today is descended from a long line of ancestors. Both the scientists and the Christians think life got started only once, a long time ago, and has only continued to exist since then by reproduction from previous life. They have more in common than either likes to admit. The only difference between them is the relatively minor point of exactly HOW it got started. Both reject the more scientific theory of spontaneous generation, which can be confirmed by direct observation at the present day.

    If life can be seen to organize from non-living matter under normal conditions both the religious theory that a god must have created it and the scientist’s claim that modern biodiversity is the result of a long series of evolutionary changes over ages of time are falsified. Biodiversity is shown to be the result of variations in the ambient conditions while a cohort of organisms is forming. And when those conditions happen to occur again, the same species will also be created again.

    Since the organizing process usually takes place in water, a search of tidal pools and swamps would be the best places to look for new creatures coming into existence.

    • Bob Pease says:

      The “REALTROOTH” you are offering us ( again )
      is nuttier than the “Lonely guy in the sky” theory offered by fundos

    • bruce says:

      You need to document these instances you’ve observed of “life from nonliving matter” and submit them to your scientific peers.

      • Tzindaro says:

        I do not have any “scientific peers” because I am not a member of that club. And I do not need to document anything or try to convert anyone. I am not a missionary and have no great investment in what other people believe or do not believe. I am not trying to save souls for some ideology. I am only expressing an opinion and telling people what I have seen. If anyone chooses not to believe me, that is their problem, not mine.

        • Ray Sutera says:


          What the heck is the point of posting your opinion if you do nothing to support it? Of course no one will believe you. You have made an extraordinary claim that runs counter to today’s knowledge and you think you have no obligation to tell us what you mean by it? And then you chastise us by telling us it’s OUR problem if we don’t believe you?

          So you propose that you have seen “new living organisms constantly form directly from inorganic or dead organic matter under modern, everyday conditions in oceans, ponds, swamps, and even in your front lawn” yet you ask for our belief instead of giving us the evidence. And even as you ask for our belief you complain about our “religion”?

          Methinks you are a very deluded person who hasn’t thought these things through.

    • ThysH says:

      Your theory about “new” life being created even today in some warm pool, could well be true, but the chances of finding such new life is utterly remote – quite impossible. For if such life were to be formed, it will be gobbled up almost as soon as it is formed by the existing and bigger and hungry organisms present in the warm pool.

  6. Rik Delaet says:

    Nice reminder of a memorable process. And it’s the last sentence I like the most.

  7. Yahya says:

    Two questions and one criticism.

    Are those 80 articles claimed by creationists, published in ISI journals? Or when they say we’ve published 80 articles do they also include the essays that are published in websites and blogs where there is now scientific reviewing and editing?

    Was the documentary named “Expelled” which played a huge innocent game about intelligent design not being allowed, made or at least funded by the same Discovery Institute?

    The criticism: I expect an evolutionist and a skeptic to be sound when they write about anything, even when they write about those who believe in things that we consider being absurd such as creationism, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine and etc. Using sarcastic and to some extents impolite terms such as this sentence: “overleveraged on junk bonds as he attempts to build his silly Noah’s ark tourist attraction” simply isn’t appropriate for us.

    • Olde Dr. Diensolado says:

      “I expect an evolutionist and a skeptic to be sound ”

      Soundness wins debates in High School

      Ridicule is often the preferred choice for rhetoric.

      Dr Sidethink Hp. D
      Reformed Church of the Subgenius

    • Georgios Iosifidis says:

      I would tend to agree with your position; I am, however, convinced that a significant number of young earth creationists are consciously adopting this position for their personal benefit, despite privately understanding how irrational such a thesis is (or perhaps even accepting evolution).

      This renders them not only dangerous, but also malicious and deserving of this sort of language.

    • ERIC BERENDT says:

      Yahya, drop the second y and replace it and the last “a” with “o’s.” If Reagan hadn’t opened the looney asylums doors, there wouldn’t be a “Noah’s Ark” theme park.

  8. Tim Callahan says:

    Regarding the backlash creationist fundamentalists generated in areas of the nation where they triumphed, history repeats itself. The temporary triumphs of theocratic states, such as Calvin’s Geneva and England under Cromwell, provoked, along with the religion-based atrocities of the Thirty Years War, a revulsion against their dictatorial ways that led, eventually, to the Enlightenment. While the Enlightenment didn’t do away with religion, it removed God as the causative factor for natural processes and an irrevocable secularization of society. One can only hope that the excesses of the Islamic State will likewise provoke a secular disruption of Islam.

  9. Tim says:

    “Finally, people saw what they could do when they were able to enact their right-wing agenda against evolution, climate change, abortion, women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights…”

    Fine article until it got to this part. One can be anti-ID without buying into the whole left-wing agenda. Please try to keep politics out of these articles as much as possible.

    • Chad says:

      I agree with Tim. This piece was very good until the commentary on the right wing agenda. There are plenty of skeptics who are not liberals, and an article about this landmark case and the correct and courageous decision that this judge made doesn’t need to include commentary on a “war on women, minorities, GLT, etc”.

    • ERIC BERENDT says:

      …so, you’re on of the 3 or four intelligent humans who haven’t noticed the tendency of the ID’ers to be GW deniers, anti-gay, pro-life, anti-immigrant, anti-brown skin, and all the rest of the Donald’s boogy men? Well, your public library has books you could read to alleviate this lack. Or, if that’s to scary, there’s always the comfort food of Fox News.

  10. donc says:


    very good article. I take a bit of issue with the final somewhat dogmatic, generalized references to “many polls” and “conservative agenda” but overall well done.

  11. Dan Lynch says:

    What are we celebrating? WE LOST! Skepticism, as a way of thinking, has failed in the agora. Creationism has always been a political enterprise but we scientists are so damned stupid, all we wanted to do was talk about the science. Nobody cared about that, people flocked to the “debates” just to see us hapless academics humiliated.

    It became obvious to me in the 70s that evolution denial (I didn’t think of that term) was a mating call of authoritarians (calling them “conservative” is a grave mistake). When Ben Carson famously announced that he didn’t believe in evolution, he did it to establish his authoritarian bona fides. He was a surgeon, evolution was not in his instrument tray, why should anybody care what he thinks about it?

    Another thing that seems obvious in hindsight is that creationism was the test-bed for all of the subsequent denialisms. If such a well understood scientific theory as evolution could be denied so successfully in the popular culture, why not the holocaust? … or climate change?

    These days, things have become biblical (There is no more fundamental authority than The Word of God). Specifically Genesis, not 1/1 but 3/5 – “you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Authoritarians don’t necessarily know good and evil but they do think of themselves as gods, fully qualified to create their own realities. That’s why they can have their own “facts” and defend those “facts” with authoritarian aggression. Discussion and aggression are incompatible.

    About Prothero’s last sentence that some people seem to like: Graem Wood writes in the Atlantic article linked below, “Much of what the (Islamic State) does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.” Fundamentalist Christians may be a nasty bunch, but their piddling efforts pale in comparison to the “overreaching” of the truly fundamentalist ISIS. Disagree with them, die horribly!

    Interesting times.

    • ERIC BERENDT says:

      As far as the “fundies” are concerned, just give them time, and a president to complement the two houses of congress and the Supreme Court.

  12. Tim Callahan says:

    I wonder if Gream Wood believes that burning a captured combatant alive has any basis in traditional Islamic culture of the seventh century. How about the Japanese civilians the Islamic State executed, who weren’t even involved in the conflict? One reason Islam spread so swiftly initially was that the Muslim rulers were far more lenient in rule than the tyrannical empires from which they either took territory (the Eastern Roman Empire) or overthrew (the Sassanid Persian Empire), or, for that matter the ill-governed Visigothic state in the Iberian peninsula. Even in terms of the seventh century the Islamic State is barbarous and gratuitously brutal.

  13. awc says:

    If any of you scroll this far down… hello

    The creationism evolution argument is it seems largely politically driven not a scientific debate

    OK those that take up flag of creationism genuinely believing it and those that politically leverage these two groups I can accept. Ignorance and opportunism.

    The ones I have trouble with are those at the DI and whovwere in the school board, who clearly are wise to the fact their position is brutally flawed. Will knowingly purge to purport it as truth. The godly values of truth they claim to uphold clearly contravened.

    I don’t get it??

  14. Steven Holmes says:

    Judge John Jones – you’re my new hero! I love the fact he was able to make a fair and rational judgment, especially in light of his political and religious leanings. I highly recommend the documentary about this Dover case – it’s very well-done and covers this case from all angles. Hope you and yours had a great Kitzmas!

Get eSkeptic

Science in your inbox every Wednesday!

eSkeptic delivers great articles, videos, podcasts, reviews, event announcements, and more to your inbox once a week.

Sign me up!

Donate to Skeptic

Please support the work of the Skeptics Society. Make the world a more rational place and help us defend the role of science in society.

Detecting Baloney

Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic) by Deanna and Skylar (High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA)

The Baloney Detection Kit Sandwich (Infographic)

For a class project, a pair of 11th grade physics students created the infographic shown below, inspired by Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit: a 16-page booklet designed to hone your critical thinking skills.

FREE Video Series

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Science Based Medicine vs. Alternative Medicine

Understanding the difference could save your life! In this superb 10-part video lecture series, Harriet Hall, M.D., contrasts science-based medicine with so-called “complementary and alternative” methods. The lectures each range from 32 to 45 minutes.

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths of Terrorism

Is Terrorism an Existential Threat?

This free booklet reveals 10 myths that explain why terrorism is not a threat to our way of life or our survival.

FREE PDF Download

The Top 10 Weirdest Things

The Top Ten Strangest Beliefs

Michael Shermer has compiled a list of the top 10 strangest beliefs that he has encountered in his quarter century as a professional skeptic.

FREE PDF Download

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

Who believes them? Why? How can you tell if they’re true?

What is a conspiracy theory, why do people believe in them, and why do they tend to proliferate? Why does belief in one conspiracy correlate to belief in others? What are the triggers of belief, and how does group identity factor into it? How can one tell the difference between a true conspiracy and a false one?

FREE PDF Download

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

FREE PDF Download

Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

FREE PDF Download

Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

Copyright © 1992–2017. All rights reserved. The Skeptics Society | P.O. Box 338 | Altadena, CA, 91001 | 1-626-794-3119. Privacy Policy.