Legal scholar and former Discovery Fellow Francis J. Beckwith recounts the legal history of court battles over the teaching of biological origins. Though many thought that the landmark Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard would permanently settle these questions by ruling creationism unconstitutional, Beckwith observes that intelligent design poses a new challenge to legal scholars. Beckwith, who has published about teaching intelligent design in law journals such as Harvard Law Review, provides a thorough treatment of the subject.
After recounting the history of cases which involved the “Creator in the courtroom,” Beckwith turns to analyzing intelligent design. Under various legal definitions of religion, Beckwith contends that design is not religion as conventionally understood because it derives its support from empirical data and philosophical arguments. Intelligent design, Beckwith explains, is distinct from creationism, for it derives its support from the scientific argument rather than religious texts such as the book of Genesis. Design also fails other legal tests for “religion,” such as the “parallel position test” because it does not function as a religion in the lives of its proponents. While design may come to conclusions shared by some religions, this does not necessarily make it “religion” for legal purposes. After all, Beckwith observes, courts have acknowledged that “a decision respecting the subject matter to be taught in public schools does not violate the Establishment Clause simply because the material to be taught happens to harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions.”
Finally, Beckwith argues that intelligent design does not fit under the Edwards test for religion because it lacks a historical connection with the Scopes Trial and other Genesis-inspired anti-evolution endeavors. Teaching about intelligent design could be justified on the basis that it improves the religious “neutrality” of a curriculum.
Beckwith provides a deep and thorough treatment of the legal arguments raised by critics of teaching design in public schools. Those interested in studying the relevant technical legal arguments surrounding the teaching of intelligent design will require an understanding of Beckwith’s well-reasoned position explained in this book.