Intelligent Design Case in Dover, PA and Larger Issues


For years and years, the debate as to the origin of human life, whether it was brought about by a creator or just by a series of coincidental, random scientific events has raged, dividing families as well as entire communities. Presently; the public opinion on the issue, as well as which theory/belief system should be taught to children in school is almost split in the middle- A Harris poll in June 2005 found that 55% of American adults believe that evolution, creationism, and intelligent design should be taught in public schools (The Skeptic’s Website, 2005). One of the recent events which have brought this debate into the spotlight is the debate over the teaching of intelligent design in the Dover, PA School System.

In this paper, the researcher will discuss this landmark case as well as the larger issues surrounding it- the goals of the proponents of intelligent design, the response of their opponents, and exactly how this case reflects larger issues in religion and politics. Finally, the paper will consider whether or not this is a case regarding the separation of church and state. Relevant references that will better explain the topic and peripheral issues will be cited, and at the conclusion of the paper, it is the objective of the researcher to objectively present and discuss the topic.

Background of the Case

Before looking at the more intricate issues surrounding the Dover Intelligent Design Case, it is important to understand the basic facts of the case itself. The controversy first began when The Dover School Board considered teaching intelligent design as part of its biology curriculum. Intelligent design is the modern version of creationism, which basically asserts that human beings and their surroundings were all created by an “intelligent creator”, which could be for various people represented by God, gods, or anything else that their belief system holds for them. In general, however, it should be noted that intelligent design basically attributes creation to “divine intervention”, rather than scientific principles (The Skeptic’s Website, 2005) . Ultimately, parents were notified of the upcoming change to intelligent design curriculum, which was represented as a “more comprehensive” theory than creationism, and shortly thereafter, intelligent design was incorporated into the biology program in the Dover schools. A lawsuit, spearheaded by the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union (PA ACLU), moved to have creationism abolished from the Dover schools in favor of the previous curriculum which taught the theories of evolution.

The essential legal questions at the core of the Dover case are whether intelligent design has educational value or is it simply religiously motivated by those who wish to promote their own religious beliefs onto others. This is where the details of the case become most interesting and open to evaluation.

Motivation of Intelligent Design Proponents

While their intentions can hardly be called sinister, the proponents of intelligent design in the Dover case seem to have had a very specific agenda that they wished to pursue. Allegations were made that the Dover School District was actually solicited by the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a pro-Christian organization, to consider implementing intelligent design into their biology curriculum. Of course, in the case of the TMLC, the “intelligent designer” to which they were referring was the Christian representation of God, so it appears that rather than simply trying to offer students another viewpoint in their education, the line between church and state was being crossed. In fact, in this case, the ACLU presented evidence against intelligent design in Dover that indicated that the TMLC used old literature that promoted creationism and simply substituted the words “intelligent design” for “creationism” in the materials, and used them to present what they asserted was a new philosophy beyond the old creationism mindset (American Civil Liberties Union Of Pennsylvania, 2005). Essentially, the ACLU argued, this is the same old product in a new box, so to speak, as evidenced by this exact quote from ACLU literature which offers reinforcement of their argument against intelligent design: “Like creationism, intelligent design consists of both scientifically unwarranted criticisms of evolution as well as the assertions that is necessary to invoke the actions of a supernatural being to explain the creation of lifeâÂ?¦it is noncommittal about the age of the earth and other scientific assertions so as not to alienate traditional creationists” (American Civil Liberties Union Of Pennsylvania, 2005) . The logic behind this argument that was made by the ACLU became a critical piece of the opposition to intelligent design in the Dover case.

Response of Intelligent Design Opponents

As was stated earlier in the research, the opponents of intelligent design, most notably the ACLU of PA, launched an all out opposition to intelligent design in the Dover School District. The arguments that the ACLU made in this case indeed are a reflection of the feelings of the opponents to intelligent design throughout the United States. The backbone of the opposition lies in the argument that intelligent design is just the old fashioned creationism that has been argued back and forth for nearly a century, simply with a fresh coat of paint on it. There is some logic in that argument, as when looking at the traditional creationism in comparison to intelligent design, both theories essentially boil down to the theory that life was created by, in the case of Christians, God. Whatever divine being a given religion may call upon to serve their purposes of faith, the opponents of creationism make no distinction- their overall feeling is that no divine being or force was responsible for the creation of life.

A Reflection of Larger Issues in Religion and Politics

The Dover School District case regarding intelligent design, in hindsight, should not be limited to classification as a clash between the secular and the sacred. Rather, the case is just one battle in the ongoing war between religious and political factions that has been going on for many years. At the heart of this “war” are several key considerations that are worthy of discussion and identification in this research as follows:

PRO CHOICE ISSUES- Of course, the argument for or against the existence of one form of a divine creator or another is important beyond just the belief systems of those involved in the debate. For example, if the argument is supported that life did not come from a creator, but it is rather the result of a chemical reaction that simply happened when it happened, then life is basically reduced to a scientific equation rather than an act of God. In that case, this argument could just as well be applied to the argument in society for or against abortion, as there are those who say that the practice is the destruction of a creation of God, while others make the case that abortion is merely an action taken in response to a chemical reaction, much as one would view the removal of their tonsils. The implication here is clear- if intelligent design can be defeated, it will open the door to huge advantage for those who morally and politically advocate the practice of abortion as something that anyone can choose to do as a medical procedure, not as a case of premeditated murder, as intelligent design supporters allege.

WAR PROTESTS OR SUPPORT- Depending on the viewpoint, in support or against intelligent design, the same principles as in the abortion debate apply to the protest or support of war. While no logical person would assert that war is a good idea, the pro-war factions often times argue that it is necessary to preserve more life in the big picture, thereby saving what God has created. For those who view life as just a coincidence, they may argue that war is unnecessary, as life itself is consequential and everything will work out on its own without having to wage war. In another interesting twist, those who advocate the protection of life as their part of God’s mission may oppose war as all killing is wrong.

CONSERVATIVE VERSUS LIBERAL- Looking at the situation from a wide perspective, perhaps the intelligent design debate’s larger scope comes down to the struggle between the conservative and liberal political factions that exist clearly in the United States and indeed elsewhere around the world. Typically, conservative people tend to lean toward the religious belief system, and are usually believers of theories like intelligent design. On the other hand, liberals are usually more engrained in the logical explanation of things such as the origins of life, and oppose theories like intelligent design, as it tends to take away the right of the individual to objectively examine all of the facts and come to their own conclusions. A central part of the conservative/liberal struggle is the quest for absolute power. Within the United States Senate, for example, liberals and conservatives battle for control of key issues that affect the way that the people of America live; basically, the power over the everyday lives of ordinary people. This competition for power exhibits itself in battles such as the dispute over intelligent design, and the battlefield itself often is a setting such as the Dover School District.

Separation of Church and State in Dover Case

For all of the discussion and consideration of intelligent design within the Dover case, it can be fairly said that a main element of the case is the separation of church and state. As an example, the teaching of intelligent design in a public school funded by the government and open to all people in the country, can be seen by some as state-sponsored religious teaching, which is clearly prohibited in the United States Constitution. It can also be argued that intelligent design attempts to sway the student toward certain religious beliefs without any type of quantifiable proof for the theory, which also makes it seem more like a blurring of the line between church and state. When public funds and public education are used in the teaching of intelligent design, as was cited in the beginning of this paper, public opinion seems mixed at best, although it should be noted that in the case of Dover, the judge ruled that there was a clear agenda to advance religion(Lawrence, 2005) .

Closing Thoughts

Indeed, the debate over the origins of life as we know it will go on for many years as it has continued to do for nearly a century. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs, one thing remains clear when discussing the internal factors of the Dover case- the protection of individual rights is now and should always be bigger than the interests of organized groups. We all must take a role in protecting our rights, or someday, after they disappear one by one, they ultimately all will disappear before our very eyes.


American Civil Liberties Union Of Pennsylvania. (2005). ACLU Challenges Intelligent Design in PA. Retrieved March 19, 2006, from ACLU PA Web Site:

Baker, P., & Slevin, P. (2005). Bush’s Remarks on Intelligent Design Theory Fuel Debate.Washington Post, August 3, 2005. (p. A01).

Lawrence, J. (2005). Intelligent Design Backers Lose in PA.USA Today, November 9, 2005. (p. A3).

The Skeptic’s Website. (2005). The Skeptic’s Website. Retrieved March 19, 2006, from http://

Timmer, J., 2005. Dover Becomes Intelligent Design’s Waterloo. Retrieved March 19, 2006, from ARS Technica Web Site: http://

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