Back in Dover, With Darwin

By Sean Cavanagh — November 14, 2008 1 min read
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A couple years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of many reporters who crowded into a federal courtroom in Harrisburg, Pa., to cover a landmark court case over whether “intelligent design” had a place in public school science classrooms.

The legal battlecentered on a decision by the Dover, Pa., school board to require that students be introduced in biology class to intelligent design, an alternative to the theory of evolution. A group of parents sued to halt the policy, arguing that it amounted to an attempt to promote religious views in a public school science setting.

Federal Judge John E. Jones III heard countless hours of testimony from scientists and academics, as well as school board members, parents, and Dover administrators who were players in the case. In the end, Jones issued an opiniondeclaring that ID amounted to religion, not science. Many people I’ve interviewed since then have said the reasoning put forward by the jurist, in his 139-page ruling, have shaped evolution battles in schools and states ever since, by lending credence to scientists’ views that attacks on evolution are misleading and not likely to stand up to legal scrutiny.

A number of journalists’ accounts of the 2005 trial have appeared since then. I recently learned of another one, The Devil in Dover, authored by Laurie Lebo, who reported on the case for the York Daily Record.

Lebo brings an interesting perspective on the trial, to say the least. In the book, she not only dwells on the drama in the courtroom, but also on some apparently difficult discussions at home about the case with her deeply religious father, judging from the descriptions on the Web promoting the book.

Her account has received a number of positive reviews. One of them comes from someone who could be described as an authority: Judge John E. Jones himself, who describes it as “a most compelling narrative that accurately describes this historic battle.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.