The trial: The plaintiffs' case

By the time the trial began on September 26, 2005, Lebo had spent more than a year trying to cover the story of intelligent design, evolution, and the lawsuit against the Dover school board from many different angles. She had filed stories on the subject almost weekly—sometimes more often depending on the pace of new developments in the case. She had described how the Thomas More Law Center, which the school board hired to defend it in the lawsuit, advertised itself as a defender of Christian freedoms and championed “such issues as school prayer and ‘promoting public morality.’” [1] She had interviewed students about what they felt about the controversy. (Many were indifferent or thought the furor was “dumb,” though there was a handful of students on each side of the debate).

She had pointed out objections to the theory of intelligent design from scientists around the country, as well as representatives of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Associations for the Advancement of Science. Even the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute, she reported, felt the Dover School Board was subjecting the theory to an unnecessary legal test, and did not support the board’s controversial curriculum. Lebo had also covered the result of a similar controversy in Cobb County, Georgia, where parents had sued the school board over textbook disclaimer stickers calling evolution “a theory, not a fact.” In January 2005, a judge had ordered the stickers removed. Lawyers for the Dover School Board said the decision had no bearing on the case in Dover, but lawyers for the plaintiffs said it set a helpful precedent. And in advance of Dover’s own trial, Lebo had described Dover residents’ feelings about intelligent design in their curriculum: 54 percent of them supported its inclusion. [2]

Kenneth Miller.
© University of Alabama

Now she would be filing daily stories from the courtroom. The first half of the trial would be devoted to the plaintiffs’ case, which began with testimony from the biologist and textbook author Kenneth Miller. Lebo chronicled Miller’s testimony about the flaws of intelligent design, how he reconciled his belief in evolution with his religious beliefs (he was a devout Catholic), and what he felt was the danger intelligent design posed to science education. She summarized plaintiffs’ attorney Eric Rothschild’s opening statements, in which he argued that the school board was violating the First Amendment by trying to introduce religion into the classroom. She also quoted defense attorney Patrick Gillen’s counterargument that the board was only trying to “advance science, not religion.” [3] Her first article on the trial began:

Dover school district's attorneys call the mention of intelligent design in the school district's biology curriculum "a modest change." But Ken Miller fears a four-paragraph statement mentioning the concept might force students to choose between God and science.

She continued to cover the plaintiffs’ case as their lawyers called expert witnesses from the fields of biology and chemistry in an attempt to demonstrate the solid foundation on which evolutionary theory rested. The second part of their strategy was to show the strong link between intelligent design and creation science, which courts had banned from public schools nationwide in 1987.

Lebo found the scientific testimony fascinating, but witnessed the most dramatic moment of the trial on Wednesday, October 7, 2005. That day, Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University, took the stand as a witness for the plaintiffs. In her testimony, she traced the roots of intelligent design theory not to the biblical creation story but to the Gospel of John, which states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Forrest cited a 1999 article in the Christian magazine Touchstone in which leading intelligent design theorist William Dembski had been interviewed. Dembski had said: “Intelligent design is just the Logos theology of John’s Gospel restated in the idiom of information theory.” [4]

Forrest also presented evidence that the intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People had in early drafts been a creationist textbook. The wording of the intelligent design version of the textbook was almost exactly the same as in earlier versions, except that the words “intelligent design” had been substituted for “creationism,” and “design proponents” for “creationists.” The switch had taken place almost immediately after the Edwards v. Aguillard decision banned creation science from public schools. Forrest read from the 1986 version of the book:

Creation means that the various forms of life began abruptly through the agency of an intelligent creator with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.

She compared that to versions published in 1989 and 1993, which said instead:

Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact—fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. [5]

She revealed further that the textbook’s publishers, the Texas-based Foundation for Thought and Ethics, had performed an incomplete substitution in an early draft—in one instance writing “cdesign proponentsists,” a mistaken combination of “creationists” and “design proponents.” Lebo chronicled her testimony in detail.

[1] Lauri Lebo and Joseph Maldonado, “Dover curriculum move likely a first; Even some supporters of intelligent design suggest the board might have overstepped,” York Daily Record , October 20, 2004.

[2] Lauri Lebo, “Poll: ID matters to Dover voters; A survey found intelligent design would influence a majority of voters,” York Daily Record , January 28, 2005.

[3] Lauri Lebo, “Dover’s test begins; as the trial got underway, a scientist testified intelligent design is dangerous,” York Daily Record , September 27, 2005.

[4] Lauri Lebo, The Devil in Dover , p. 138.

[5] Lauri Lebo, The Devil in Dover , p. 140.