Before the Dover trial concludes, I want to offer some remarks about what I take will be its long-term significance. I want to do this now so that critics won’t be in a position to accuse me of spinning or rationalizing the outcome of the trial once it is reached (of course, they’ll still find fault, but that’s par for the course).
As I see it, there are three possible outcomes:
- The Dover policy, in which students are informed that the ID textbook Of Pandas and People is in their library, is upheld.
- The Dover policy is overturned but the scientific status of ID is left unchallenged.
- The Dover policy is not only overturned but ID is ruled as nonscientific.
For what it’s worth, my subjective probabilities are that outcome 1. has about a 20% probability, outcome 2. has about an 70% probability, and outcome 3. has less than a 10% probability. (Part of what prompts these numbers is that the ACLU is completely outmanning the Thomas More Law Center, which is defending the Dover policy. When I was an expert witness in the case, TMLC had one full-time person on the case and two or three part-timers. The ACLU, by contrast, had at least twelve full-timers on the case.)
Of course, I regard 1. as the best outcome for ID. That’s not to say I think the Dover policy is particularly astute. Indeed, that’s why the ACLU has come to this case both guns blazing, namely, because the policy is less than optimally formulated and they hope that they can take down not only the policy but also ID with it (their model is what happened to creationism in Edwards v. Aguillard in the 80s).
Fortunately, ID is in a much stronger position scientifically than creationism, so the ACLU faces a much tougher opponent than back then (go, for instance, here and here). Unfortunately, members of the Dover school board have, through their actions, conflated ID with an apparent religious agenda. For instance, it doesn’t help the ID side that William Buckingham, then a member of the Dover school board, in trying to get the Dover policy adopted, remarked: “Two thousand years ago somebody died on the cross, can’t somebody stand up for him?” (Go here.)
If the policy is upheld, it will embolden school boards, legislators, and grass roots organizations to push for intelligent design in the public school science curriculum. As a consequence, this case really could be a Waterloo for the other side.
But will outcome 2. or 3. constitute a Waterloo for ID? Outcome 2. certainly won’t. It may make policy makers more cautious about how they incorporate ID into educational policy. But it certainly won’t stop them, especially with Santorum language in the Federal Government’s education policy (go here).
That leaves outcome 3. Although I would hate to see this happen, mainly because of all the young people who would continue to be indoctrinated into a neo-Darwinian view of biological origins, this would hardly spell the end of ID. For one thing, ID is rapidly going international and crossing metaphysical and theological boundaries. The idea that ID is purely an “American thing” can no longer be sustained. Interest is growing internationally and it will continue to grow regardless of the outcome of the trial. Also, ID is of great interest to college and graduate students, so these ideas will continue to be discussed.
But the most important thing to understand about this case is that the significance of a court case depends not merely on the judge’s decision but also on the cultural forces that serve as the backdrop against which the decision is made. Take the Scopes Trial. In most persons minds, it represents a decisive victory for evolution. And yet, in the actual trial, the decision went against Scopes (he was convicted of violating a Tennessee statute against teaching evolutionary theory).
Thus, unlike outcome 1., which would be a Waterloo for the other side, I don’t see outcome 3. as anything like a Waterloo for our side. It would make life in the short-term more difficult, and it certainly would not be pleasant to have to endure the gloating by the other side, but the work of ID would continue. In fact, it might continue more effectively than under outcome 1., which might convince people that ID has already won the day when in fact ID still has a long way to go in developing its scientific and intellectual program.
To sum up, we might say that outcome 1. would be a recipe for complacency, outcome 2. would encourage us to take greater care and try again, and option 3. would inspire us to work that much harder for ID’s ultimate success. I trust that Providence will bring about the outcome that will best foster ID’s ultimate success. The important thing is ID’s intellectual vitality.
Whether favor or adversity is, at least for now, the best tonic for ID’s intellectual vitality remains to be seen.