You may remember a couple of years ago when the Dover school board was sued for requiring science teachers at its schools to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. Tonight Nova premiered its two hour special on the Dover Intelligent Design trial. Now, two years after suffering a drubbing at the hands of the ACLU and the judge (a conservative Bush II appointee), the folks who brought you intelligent design are apparently searching for yet another path to get a whipping in court.
You see, the Nova documentary has an accompanying briefing packet for teachers. Here is the section from the FAQ portion of the briefing packet that has given Dr. John West and his cronies at the Discovery Institute the vapors:
“Can you accept evolution and still believe in religion?”
“Yes. The common view that evolution is anti-religious is simply false. All that evolution tells us is that life on this planet could have arisen by natural processes. For many people of various faiths, showing that something is due to a natural process doesn’t take it outside the realm of the divine. Religious thinkers across the ages have written that merely showing that something is natural puts it within the influence of God, the creator of all nature. By definition science cannot address supernatural causes because its methodology is confined to the natural world. Therefore science has nothing to say about the nature of God or about people’s spiritual beliefs. This does not mean science is anti-religious; rather it means science cannot engage in this level of explanation.”
Dr. West and the Discovery Institute assert that this answer “encourages the injection of religion into classroom teaching about evolution in a way that likely would violate current Supreme Court precedents about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause”. They have insinuated the threat of legal action against PBS, ominously warning that the Discovery Institute had sent the Nova teaching guide out to 16 attorneys and legal scholars for review and analysis of its constitutionality. If these are the same attorneys and legal scholars who worked on the Dover case for them, I’d say Nova and PBS don’t have much to worry about.
What Dr. West and his colleagues ignore is that PBS can’t violate the establishment clause or any other constitutional principle because PBS is not in the business of passing laws. In fact, last time I checked PBS can’t compel anybody to do anything, otherwise we would probably be forced to spend a significant portion of our lives watching their interminable pledge drives. Aside from the obvious fact that PBS and Nova do not have the same legal authority to compel cooperation from educators as say, the Dover School Board, their assertion that the answer would violate the establishment clause is almost as thin as the scientific basis for intelligent design. It is quite clear that a discussion of “many people of various faiths” is far cry from a state sponsored establishment of a particular religion, even if it were a phrase uttered by a teacher in a public school classroom. What religion is being established here? Where does it say that one religion is more legitimate than another? As far as I can tell the FAQ answer simply points out that some people believe the natural world is also divine and that science really can’t address any of these questions. Or maybe the Discovery Institute is taking on a new mission heretofore thought of as too wacky even for them: that evolution is just another religious “ism”, so teaching evolution as science is the same as teaching Christianity or Judaism as science.
Of course, I wanted to tell you what the “16 attorneys and legal scholars” had to say about the constitutionality of the briefing packet. Unfortunately I can’t because the press conference the Discovery Institute had planned to release the findings was canceled when Dr. West was stricken with a wicked case of laryngitis. I don’t know about intelligent design, but that sure sounds like divine retribution to me.
Pamela in Pittsburgh