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Intro to Legal Brief in Dover Trial Defending Teaching of Intelligent Design


In this case, plaintiffs have made two main types of claims. First, they have made fact-based claims that the specific policy adopted by the Dover Area School Board (“DASB”) violates the first and second prongs of the Lemon test. Second, they claim that the theory of intelligent design is an “inherently religious concept” such that teaching students about it would necessarily violate Lemon’s first and second prongs under any circumstances. Amicus vigorously disputes this second, more general claim, but takes no position on the first.

Amicus takes no position on the first set of claims because Amicus lacks access to the factual record regarding the motives and actions of the DASB. Amicus disputes the second, more general claim, because it ignores the many secular purposes under which the theory of intelligent design could be taught, as well as the likely primary effect of teaching about intelligent design—to advance science education.

Secular purposes for teaching about the theory of intelligent design include informing students about competing scientific theories of biological origins, helping students to better understand the contrasting theory of neo-Darwinism (the standard textbook theory of evolution), and enhancing critical thinking skills.

As to the second prong of the Lemon test, plaintiffs falsely assert that the theory of intelligent design necessarily has the primary effect of advancing religion. Instead, there is every good reason to regard the theory of intelligent design as a scientific theory, and thus, the primary effect of informing students about it is to improve science education; further, the inclusion of such “alternative scientific theories” was clearly authorized by Edwards v. Aguillard. Moreover, plaintiffs’ argument rests upon (a) the demonstrably false claim that design theory postulates a “supernatural creator” and (b) discredited and misapplied definitions of science.

Were it true that teaching about intelligent design had the primary effect of advancing religion, then by the same logic teaching neo-Darwinism would have a similar primary effect, since (as even plaintiffs have acknowledged) both theories have larger religious, anti-religious or metaphysical implications. Notwithstanding these implications, courts have repeatedly sanctioned the teaching of neo-Darwinism because (presumably) its primary effect is to advance science education and any effect on religion is merely incidental. Thus, since both neo-Darwinism and the theory of intelligent design may have larger, if contradictory, philosophical implications, teaching students about it not only should be permitted, but could serve to advance religious neutrality.

Thus, whatever the merits and history of DASB’s policy, Amicus urges the court to reject plaintiffs’ claim that teaching students about the theory of intelligent design necessarily violates the Establishment Clause. If the Court strikes down DASB’s policy, Amicus urges the court to fashion relief that does not impugn the constitutionality of teaching about intelligent design, since policies permitting such instruction might reflect valid secular purposes and could enhance religious neutrality.

Click here to read the entire Amicus Brief filed by Discovery Institute.
For background information and a list of news articles about the Dover trial go here.