A Reply to Robert T. Miller
|March 28, 2006||Posted by Barry Arrington under Intelligent Design|
This is a letter I sent to First Things today.
Dear Editors of First Things:
Robert T. Miller argues that Judge JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District was correct even though Miller admits that Intelligent Design (ID) is not religion (Darwin in Dover, PA, April 2006). MillerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s conclusion is plainly a non sequitur. The Establishment Clause has one and only one purpose Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to prevent the establishment of religion. If Miller is correct and ID is not a religion, a policy promoting the teaching of ID does not, by definition, operate to establish religion. Therefore, such a policy cannot violate the Establishment Clause. The inescapable conclusion given MillerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own premises? Judge Jones erred when he ruled that teaching ID violates the Establishment Clause.
Miller argues that JonesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ decision was nevertheless correct Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not because ID is a religion, but because Ã¢â‚¬Å“Intelligent Design does not belong in a science class.Ã¢â‚¬Â (emphasis in the original) This conclusion is also wrong. Judges Ã¢â‚¬â€œ especially federal judges Ã¢â‚¬â€œ have a limited role in our constitutional democracy. They do not have a roving warrant to run around setting perceived errors in judgment aright. Judge Jones was entitled to strike down the Dover policy only if it established religion. Miller admits that it did not, because ID is not a religion. Therefore, Jones was wrong even if we grant MillerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s aesthetic judgment about the unseemliness of combining the teaching of two non-religious subjects (assuming arguendo that ID and science are different subjects) during the same class time. This becomes clear if we posit the combination of science and another academic subject that is not as emotionally charged as ID. For example, if the Dover school board had enacted a policy requiring all science teachers in the district to use the last ten minutes of each of their classes to teach music, the policy would have been stupid, but it would not have been unconstitutional. The citizens of DoverÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s remedy would have been to throw the rascals out at the next election and hope the new school board would repeal the policy. Their remedy would not be going to court to have the Ã¢â‚¬Å“science and musicÃ¢â‚¬Â policy struck down as unconstitutional.
Miller also argues that not just any explanation of observed phenomena can legally be admitted into the definition of science (or at least the type of science that can be taught in the government schools). He uses Sherlock HolmesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ methods in The Hound of the Baskervilles as an example of the sort of reasoning that is out of bounds. According to Miller, HolmesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ conclusions about the personal characteristics of the owner of a walking stick based upon his examination of the walking stick are not what we would normally call science, and, presumably for that reason, it would be illegal to teach HolmesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ epistemological methods as science in the government schools. The problem with MillerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s argument is that again, even if we grant MillerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s point that it might not be a good idea to teach HolmesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ method as science, it is not the role of federal judges to decide for school boards which epistemological methods they may require to be taught. If a local school board wants to define the sort of thing Holmes did as science, there is no constitutional barrier preventing it from doing so. Even if we agree that it is unwise to define HolmesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ methods as science, this lack of wisdom does not make the policy unconstitutional. Similarly, the epistemological methods used by ID proponents are not unconstitutional unless . . . well, unless they violate some provision of the Constitution. They do not. Therefore, there is no constitutional reason they cannot be used in the government schools.
Finally, Miller argues that ID should not be taught at the high school level because it is just too complicated for high school students to understand. He then goes on to argue that high school students should instead study the philosophy of Kant. High schoolers can understand Immanuel Kant but not Bill Dembski? Please.