In the thinly disguised play based on the Scopes trial, Inherit the Wind, the Clarence Darrow character (Drummond) cross-examines the William Jennings Bryan character (Brady). To prove how intolerant Brady is in defending the law that forbade the teaching of evolution, Drummond asks Brady to suppose that Mr. Cates, the Scopes character, "had enough influence and lung power to railroad through the state legislature a law that only Darwin should be taught in the schools!" Brady responds by saying, "Ridiculous, ridiculous!"
Though fictional, Inherit the Wind is the lens through which much of the modern debate about evolution is seen. And though the ACLU lost the Scopes case, it won the culture war, and today it is seeking to achieve what was thought ridiculous 80 years ago. It seeks in the courts what Tennessee passed in the legislature: the exclusion of a competing theory.
The ACLU has a variety of clever arguments as to why it is a "civil liberty" to exclude any competing theory. It claims that anything other than Darwinism is not science and that the only alternative to Darwin's theory is a "supernatural creator" who can't be investigated scientifically. This is plainly false. The scientists who have questioned Darwinian evolutionary theory point to scientific evidence (the fossil record, the digital information content in DNA, the engineering structure in cells) and use scientific reasoning to explain that design is the most likely cause.
Even when it is pointed out that peer-reviewed scientific articles have presented the case for intelligent design, the ACLU retreats to the position that it is only a "minority" view, and that "mainstream scientific organizations" disagree. This, from the group that supposedly defends minority views.
The ACLU claims that intelligent design is inherently religious. Certainly some who have advocated intelligent design are religious. Others decidedly are not. Many agnostic scientists support intelligent design. The theory is driven by the science, not by a religious dogma, and the theory stops where the science stops. It doesn't purport to suggest what the intelligent cause was. Should anyone be afraid of the implications of science, even if one of the implications may be to consider that we did not evolve from lower life forms?
Fortunately, the Supreme Court has a more inclusive view about teaching alternatives. In 1987, the court struck down a Louisiana statute that prohibited teaching evolution unless biblical creation was taught. In doing so, the court affirmed the constitutionality of teaching "a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind."
It is because the law is so clear on this point that the ACLU has desperately fought to control the definition of "science" to exclude design. In doing so, it imperils not just the science curriculum in Dover, but also scientific thought in general. When the Nobel Prize in medicine was recently awarded to the scientists who proved that ulcers were caused by bacteria, it was duly noted that they faced enormous opposition from the scientific and medical establishment, which was convinced otherwise. Today, a number of scientific groups have enshrined neo-Darwinism as a "proven" theory, but it would be a sad day (and, again, tragic irony) if the ACLU succeeds in getting a court to rule that anything other than the current orthodoxy doesn't qualify as science.
More than 400 scientists have signed a statement declaring that they are "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," and that "careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." The ACLU thinks that telling high school students that they should critically examine the theory of evolution should be illegal because it "disparages" the theory.
Questions exist as to why the Dover school board adopted its policy and whether it adopted the best policy it could have. We all suffer if the ACLU succeeds, however, in creating a scientific monopoly by labeling a scientific theory that explains our origins as mere religion because the theory explains various scientific facts in terms of design. When you step back and look at what the ACLU is actually asking for, you have to have the same reaction as the fictional character in Inherit the Wind: "Ridiculous!"
David K. DeWolf (email@example.com) is professor of law at Gonzaga Law School. Randall Wegner (firstname.lastname@example.org) is constitutional attorney with Clymer & Musser P.C. of Lancaster.