After their losses in Arkansas and Louisiana (see Part One of this series, here: http://www.dailykos.com/...), the creationist movement suddenly became the "Intelligent Design Movement".  Now, instead of "God", the creationists tried to argue that it was a, uh, "Unknown Intelligent Designer (wink, wink)" that made humans. That new strategy went to court in Dover, Pennsylvania--and it is here that I, your humble narrator, makes his small appearance on the stage . . .

(This account of the history of the Dover court case, written and updated as it happened, first appeared in 2005 on my "Creation 'Science' Debunked" website on the now-defunct Geocities. An edited version of it also appears in my book "Deception by Design: The Intelligent Design Movement in America", published in 2007.)

The Dover intelligent design fight started in June 2004, when, during a routine review of the textbooks being used by the district, Dover School Board Curriculum Committee member William Buckingham complained that the biology textbooks were "laced with darwinism" (York Daily Record, Dec 26, 2005). In a TV interview a week later, Buckingham declared, "My opinion, it's OK to teach Darwin, but you have to balance it with something else such as creationism". (York Daily Record, Jan 16, 2005). According to newspaper reports, Buckingham also declared, during the committee meeting, "Two thousand years ago, someone died on a cross. Can't someone take a stand for him?" (York Daily Record, Jan 16,2005) A month later, an "anonymous donation" of 60 copies of the intelligent design textbook "Of Pandas and People", was made to the school district for use as a "supplemental text" in classrooms.

In October 2004, the full School Board voted 6-3 to amend the district's curriculum to include intelligent design "theory". The amended curriculum guide reads, "Students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, Intelligent Design. The Origin of Life is not taught." (York Daily Record, Dec 26, 2004)

Several board members resigned in protest. In December, eleven parents contacted the ACLU in Pennsylvania, which filed a lawsuit on their behalf charging the district with violating church/state provisions by teaching the religious doctrine of intelligent design 'theory'. The Board hired the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal group with the stated mission of "Defending the religious freedom of Christians", to defend itself against the lawsuit. The irony (and sheer crushing stupidity) of hiring a Christian law center to argue in court that ID "theory" is purely science and has nothing to do with Christianity or religion, was apparently lost on them.

The Board, meanwhile, wrote up a brief "statement" to be announced in each biology class, which read:

"The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

"Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

"Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, Of Pandas and People, is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

"With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origins of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments." (York Daily Record, Jan 8, 2005)

The district's science teachers in turn sent a letter to the board stating that they would not read any such statement, forcing school administrators to do the deed themselves. In the press, meanwhile, Board members argued that they were not "teaching" intelligent design; they were only "mentioning" it to make students "aware" of it --- a silly argument, and not the last time that the Board would make itself look spectacularly stupid in public.

It was after the "anonymous donation" of the "Pandas" book that the DebunkCreation email list (formed by me in 1997 as an offshoot of my "Creation 'Science' Debunked" website, and at the time the largest evolution/creation list at Yahoogroups) decided to get involved. It began with an offhand comment on January 31, 2005, by a Canadian member with the moniker "Budbass", who said "Since an "anonymous" donor gave 50 copies of "Of Pandas and People" to the Dover school library, perhaps someone could donate a hundred or so copies of "Finding Darwin's God" to the library too. Looks like they need it!" After much discussion, before the second week in February, we settled on a list of books that we would donate. With later additions, it grew to the 23 books which were eventually sent off to Dover. The books were chosen on three criteria; (1) books that gave accurate scientific information about biology and cosmology, (2) books that pointed out the scientific, legal, and political arguments against intelligent design "theory", and (3) books which pointed out that science and religion are not incompatible with each other.

Some comments here on our aims and goals. Our primary goal, of course, was to place pressure on the Dover School Board. Since they had already accepted the "anonymous donation" of the "Pandas" book, we knew that sending them a PRO-science book donation would place them in the uncomfortable position of either (1) allowing their students access to books that were critical of ID "theory", or (2) rejecting the books, thus demonstrating their real motives to the whole world (and more importantly, we thought, to the judge in the ACLU lawsuit). In either case, we figured, we would be making a good gesture. The statement we sent with the books read, "We make this donation in the hopes that it will help to increase knowledge and to decrease ignorance."

We also wanted to use the press as an opportunity to talk publicly about some things that we as a group felt were not being talked about enough in the anti-ID movement. Specifically, several of the list members are involved in the fight in the UK against the Vardy Foundation's attempts to teach creationism in the schools that it owns, and we wanted to make American audiences aware that creationism/ID is not just a local phenomenon --- there are creationist/ID groups in Australia, Canada, the UK and Russia as well, all of them formed and funded by American groups.

Finally, we wanted to draw attention to the political agenda behind the intelligent design movement, particularly the Discovery Institute's Wedge Document, and the Christian Reconstructionist background of DI's major funding source, California S&L bigwig Howard Ahmanson.

The books were mailed in March 2005, and a press release was sent out announcing the donation.

As a result of the press release and donation, the following story ran in the York Dispatch on March 15, 2005:

Cyber group awaits Dover book decision
Had donated several science texts


An international cyber group that opposes intelligent design is still waiting to hear if its donation of more than 20 science books to the Dover Area High School library will be accepted.

The cyber-activists said they were motivated to make the donation after reading that an anonymous donor gave 60 copies of the intelligent design book "Of Pandas and People" to the district last year.

At last night's board meeting, president Sheila Harkins said she is aware a donation of about 20 books has been received, but she is not sure where they came from, or if they are the books donated by the DebunkCreation Web site.

On March 9, the owner of the Web list wrote an e-mail to Barbara Holtzapple, superintendent Richard Nilsen's assistant, saying the group has a UPS record that indicates the donation was received and "signed for by a member of the staff at 10:26 a.m. on Monday, March 7."

"Since the school district has made clear that its sole interest is in teaching ALL sides of the controversy, and not in advancing or favoring any particular viewpoint, I am quite sure that you will agree with us that students should be given access to information on the ENTIRE controversy, including information concerning not only evolutionary biology and other areas of science, but information on the large number of scientific, legal, political, and other criticisms of intelligent design theory and its aims and motives," wrote Lenny Flank.

Donated books: The proposed donation includes titles such as "What Evolution Is," by biologist Ernst Mayr, "Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics," by Robert Pennock and "Finding Darwin's God," by biologist Kenneth R. Miller.

Board president Sheila Harkins said the board's curriculum committee will review this donation the same as it did the "Pandas" donation.

She said the committee doesn't have set criteria that it looks for acceptable books, but it will make sure they are not "advanced academically beyond anyone's comprehension."

The Web group has more than 400 members from the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, Australia and Sweden.(From York Dispatch, www.yorkdispatch.com).

This article prompted the following letter from me to Dover School District Superintendent Richard Nilsen, which was also provided to the press:

Dear Mr Nilsen:

Our UPS records indicate that our recent donation of 23 science books for the High School Library was received and signed for by a member of the staff at 10:26 am on Monday, March 7. We are happy that our donation has arrived safe and sound.

Recent press information suggests that the decision as to accepting the donation will be made by either the School Board or by the School Superintendant. We would like to inquire as to the time frame within which we can expect this decision to be made, and also what opportunity will be presented for any public input from the community about this decision.

Since the school district has made clear that its sole interest is in teaching ALL sides of the controversy, and not in advancing or favoring any particular viewpoint, I am quite sure that you will agree with us that students should be given access to information on the ENTIRE controversy, including information concerning not only evolutionary biology and other areas of science, but information on the large number of scientific, legal, political, and other criticisms of intelligent design theory and its aims and motives. We are therefore very happy to have the opportunity to help you provide this sort of information to your students, and, in light of recent financial difficulties faced by the library, we are especially glad that we are able to do this without incurring any cost whatsoever to the district.

The books we have donated were written by some of the best scientists and science writers of modern times, and many of these books have spent time on the best-seller lists. All have been the subject of praise and recommendation from literary reviewers as well as scientists and educators.

We hope your students will find them useful and informative.

Lenny Flank, List Owner


We received no response from Mr Nilsen. However, after a few days, we learned from sources in Dover that there did not seem to be any legal or policy reason for the Board's curriculum committee to be involved with our donation. The portion of the Board's published policies and procedures dealing with donations reads:
Section 702:
The Board recognizes that individuals and organizations in the community may wish to contribute additional supplies, equipment, etc., to enhance or extend the instructional program.

The Board has the authority to accept such gifts and donations as may be made to the district or to any school in the district by resolution duly passed at a public meeting. This policy so authorizes the Superintendent to accept such gifts and donations that have no associated initial cost to the district. Those with an associated initial cost to the district must first receive Board approval.

It therefore seemed pretty clear to us that in cases where the donation doesn't use any district funds, it's the SUPERINTENDENT, NOT THE BOARD, that has the decision. There seemed to be NO legal or policy reason for the curriculum committee, or anyone else on the school board, to be involved in our donation in any way. This seemed to be confirmed by a passage from the York Daily Record, which stated; "But a month later, 50 copies of a "supplemental" textbook on intelligent design, "Of Pandas and People," were donated to the school district. The district will not release the names of the donors. Because no district funds were used, the school board did not need to vote on the books." (York Daily Record, Dec 26, 2004)

The involvement of the curriculum committee in our donation (which did not use any district funds) therefore seemed to us to be nothing but an effort on their part to protect their own previous religious agenda concerning ID, and to illegally advance religion by attempting to protect their religious "theory" of ID from works that criticize it.

As a result, I sent another letter to Dover School Board President Sheila Harkins asking for clarification, which read:

Dear Ms Harkins:

I am the founder of the DebunkCreation email list at yahoogroups which recently donated 23 science books to the Dover Senior High School Library.

In a recent York Dispatch article about the donation, I found this statement:

"Board president Sheila Harkins said the board's curriculum committee will review this donation the same as it did the "Pandas" donation."

This doesn't sound quite right to me . . . . "Pandas" was donated specifically to be used as a "supplemental text" in the CLASSROOM, and they specifically did not WANT it to be in the library. Our books, by contrast, were donated to the LIBRARY, and are NOT intended for classroom use or as any sort of "supplemental text" for the curriculum. My understanding is that the school board does not have to approve materials donated to the LIBRARY, particularly if they do not involve any district funds, and former board members have confirmed to me that they cannot find any board policies or procedures that would require approval from the board or the curriculum committee for a donation made to the school library.

Can you please point out which specific board policy is being followed by the board, in referring our donation to the curriculum committee?

I am also a little bit mystified by a statement attributed to you in the Dispatch article, to the effect that the books we donated may be "too academically advanced" for students. I would like to point out that these are not textbooks; they are popular works written specifically for a general public audience of non-scientists, and most of these books spent several months on the NY Times best-seller list. I am of course quite sure that you are NOT suggesting that students at Dover Senior High School do not have the education level or reading skills necessary to read and understand some of the best- selling books written in the past ten years, by some of the best science writers in the world, including Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould.

I look forward to clarification from you regarding these questions.

Thanks. :>
Lenny Flank, List Owner


Copies of this letter were also provided to the press, which led to the following article appearing in the York Daily Record on March 20, 2005:

Dover to review donated books

Anti-creationism group wants 23 books to go in school's library


For the Daily Record/Sunday News

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Dover Area School District is reviewing science books donated by an anti-creationism group to determine whether to add the books to its library.

A group called DebunkCreation in St. Petersburg, Fla., donated 23 books of various scientific interests to the high school's library. Supt. Richard Nilsen said the books will have to be reviewed either by the board's curriculum committee, the administration, library personnel or a combination of those groups to ensure the books are educationally appropriate.

Some of the books are written by noted scientists, including Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. All support scientific methods and theories that include Darwin's theories of evolution.

Lenny Flank, who founded DebunkCreation in 1989, said the donations were made in an effort to "increase knowledge and decrease ignorance."

Flank said in 1982, board members of a nearby school district began talking about including creationism as an alternate theory to evolution. He said he helped form a group of parents, teachers, clergy and business people to oppose the effort.

Flank said he was notified by the delivery company that the Dover district received the books March 7, and he expected the books to be on the shelves soon after. But he discovered the books would have to go through a review process before being allowed to sit on library shelves.

He was particularly concerned about the potential review by the curriculum committee. He said the books "have nothing to do with curriculum" and are simply a donation to the library.

Last year, a group of residents donated 58 copies of the textbook, "Of Pandas and People" to Dover. The school board had researched the book, which espouses the intelligent-design concept of how life evolved, and approved it as a reference book. It is housed in the school library.

Flank said he heard that board president Sheila Harkins, at the March 14 school board meeting, said that the donated science books needed review to ensure they were not advanced beyond anyone's comprehension. But Harkins said Friday she would never challenge a donated book based on whether she thought it was too difficult for students.

"What I said was that I want to ensure that the books are academically appropriate," Harkins said.

Nilsen said Friday that the books had to be reviewed to determine their "educational appropriateness" and to make sure they're scientifically accurate. Nilsen and Harkins said Dover students are among the smartest anywhere and that "educational appropriateness" has nothing to do with student comprehension.

"What if some of these books are written by hate groups?" Nilsen asked. "Or create discriminatory issues?"

Harkins said she couldn't think of too many other reasons to refuse the donation, provided the books don't deal with pornography or how to become a terrorist.

"We want people to donate books," she said. "Books are good."

Neither Nilsen nor Harkins knew when the books would be evaluated. But Harkins said she hopes to have an answer by the next school board meeting on April 4.

The Board's idiotic blithering about "hate groups" and "pornography" prompted me to drop the gloves, and my next letter to the Board President was a good deal more blunt than the previous ones:

Dear Ms Harkins:

I am the founder of the DebunkCreation email list which recently donated 23 science books to the Dover Senior High Library.

Statements attributed to you in a recent York Daily Record article have not answered any of the questions I have asked you previously regarding our donation, and have indeed raised some new questions I would like to ask.

In the Daily Record article, you are quoted as saying:

"But Harkins said Friday she would never challenge a donated book based on whether she thought it was too difficult for students. "What I said was that I want to ensure that the books are academically appropriate," Harkins said."

However, In an earlier York Dispatch article regarding the donation, you are quoted as saying, "She said the committee doesn't have set criteria that it looks for acceptable books, but it will make sure they are not "advanced academically beyond anyone's comprehension."

It certainly sounds to ME as if "beyond anyone's comprehension" refers directly to "too difficult for students". The Daily Record article then goes on to quote Mr Nilsen as saying:

"Nilsen and Harkins said Dover students are among the smartest anywhere and that "educational appropriateness" has nothing to do with student comprehension."

I am a little confused; first you say you want to review the books to make sure they are not "academically advanced beyond anyone's comprehension"; NOW you are saying that your review "has nothing to do with student comprehension". . . . . .

You would seem to be directly contradicting yourself. Would you mind clarifying this for me, please? What exactly ARE the criteria under which the books will be "reviewed"? They seem to be changing from week to week.

I also note with curiosity this statement:

"Nilsen said Friday that the books had to be reviewed to determine their "educational appropriateness" and to make sure they're scientifically accurate."

"Scientifically accurate"? These books were written by some of the best scientists in the world. Is the board seriously suggesting that science works by such people as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould are NOT "scientifically accurate"? Who do you plan to ask to review the books for "scientific accuracy"? The Thomas More Law Center?

I am also concerned because I have STILL not received any explanation from you about who exactly will be "reviewing" the donation. Despite requests, I have STILL not received any explanation from you as to why the curriculum committee needs to be involved in a library donation, and I STILL have not received any reference to which board policies or procedures you are following regarding this donation.

Quite frankly, the impression I have gotten from you so far is that you simply don't like the books we have donated because they directly challenge your pet ID "theory", that you want your pet ID "theory" to be protected from criticism, that you are not at all interested in teaching ALL SIDES of the "controversy", and that you are simply fishing around for a half-convincing reason to reject the donated books.

I hope that impression is wrong.

I am cc'ing this letter to the press, and give them full permission to quote any or all of it in any articles they do.

Lenny Flank, List Owner,


On March 23, a York Daily Record editorial stated;

The Dover board should gracefully accept a donation of 23 books to its library by a Florida group called DebunkCreation.

The books, by preeminent scientists such as Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, have been received by the district, but officials say they need to decide whether they're appropriate for the school library. Superintendent Richard Nilsen said the books have to be reviewed to make sure they're scientifically accurate.

And who, pray tell, in the Dover school district is academically equipped to check the accuracy of physics genius Stephen Hawking?

The financially strapped district can't afford to pass up free library material. As school board President Sheila Harkins says, "We want people to donate books. Books are good." Yes, and these are good books. Accept them -- and put them on the shelf next to "Of Pandas and People."

The press coverage has helped us on several different levels. Not only has it attracted attention to the Dover fight (since the Dover articles ran, we have also been contacted by a reporter from the French newspaper Le Figaro for an interview and done a few radio interviews and podcasts), but it also plays an important tactical role. As I noted in a message to the DebunkCreation list, "The best part about this whole thing is that it completely circumvents their lawyer's advice to the board to shut up and not say anything in public. Alas, since this concerns official board business, they HAVE to say something. And so far, everything they've said has been utterly stupid." As I have long noted, creationists/IDers are their own worst enemies. If you keep them talking long enough, I have found, they will metaphorically shoot themselves in the head, every time.

We have also been greatly aided by the fact that that the Dover School Board appears to be made up of inept amateurish ideologues who have no idea what they are doing or how to go about doing it, and seem to be completely driven by ideological desires without any regard for the consequences. Hiring the Thomas More Law Center to argue in court that the ID policy is purely science and has nothing to do with religion or Christianity, is without a doubt the single stupidest thing I've ever seen any opponent do in all of my 20-plus years of grassroots political organizing. Arguing publicly that they are not "teaching" ID theory, but only "mentioning" it, comes a close second. And I've already noted how completely totally ridiculous the Board has made itself look publicly, with its silly yammering in the press about "hate groups" and "terrorists" and "pornography", and about their patently idiotic blithering about checking the work of some of the best scientists on the planet for "scientific accuracy".

In addition, the Board seems quite oblivious to the fact that it has apparently broken state laws in its haste to impose its religious agenda without any public input. Not only did the Board adopt "Pandas" without any public hearing or input, and involved itself with our library donation (probably illegally) in violation of its own published policies and procedures, but the curriculum committee also apparently made its decision on whether to accept our books without any hearings or public input at all. All of this would appear to be a violation of the Pennsylvania "Sunshine Laws", which mandate that all meetings of any public body during which decisions are made which will influence public policies, must be advertised in advance and must make provisions for public comment on the issues at hand. The Sunshine Laws also require that minutes of all such meetings be prepared and maintained; the Dover School Board has told the press that no written minutes exist for any of the curriculum committee meetings during which the intelligent design changes in the curriculum were made. The DebunkCreation list used its contacts in Dover to try to obtain the minutes and/or transcript of the meeting at which our donation was discussed --- in particular, we were interested to see if any board members voted against accepting it, and if so, what reasons were cited.

At its April 4, 2005 meeting, the School Board gave in to the inevitable and authorized the acceptance of all 23 donated books. The court challenge to the Board's actions, meanwhile, went to trial shortly afterwards. The DebunkCreation group filed an amicus brief with the court detailing the history of our book donation, and pointing out how it appeared to demonstrate the Board's efforts to protect students from any criticism of its religious agenda.

In his 139-page ruling in the Kitzmiller v Dover School Board case, the Judge concluded that Intelligent Design was indeed nothing more than creation “science”, rehashed in an attempt to get around the Supreme Court’s ruling:

Dramatic evidence of ID’s religious nature and aspirations is found in what is referred to as the ‘Wedge Document.’  . . . The CSRC expressly announces, in the Wedge Document, a program of Christian apologetics to promote ID. A careful review of the Wedge Document’s goals and language throughout the document reveals cultural and religious goals, as opposed to scientific ones. ID aspires to change the ground rules of science to make room for religion, specifically, beliefs consonant with a particular version of Christianity.
The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism. . . . The weight of the evidence clearly demonstrates, as noted, that the systemic change from “creation” to “intelligent design” occurred sometime in 1987, after the Supreme Court’s important Edwards decision. This compelling evidence strongly supports Plaintiffs’ assertion that ID is creationism re-labeled.
The Judge also concluded that Intelligent Design “theory” was not science and had nothing scientific to offer:
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. . . . Moreover, 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 overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.
Judge Jones bluntly concluded his ruling by stating:
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.
This case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional 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.
But alas the ID/creationism fight was not quite over yet . . .

(Next: Part Three)


Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Wed Jan 08, 2014 at 01:00 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, Street Prophets , and Progressive Atheists.

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