The Corner

The one and only.

Re: Id



I agree that we have got ourselves into an absurd pickle over the
establishment clause. Federal judges cost a ton of money to train and
keep. If I were to draw up a list of 100 things I’d like to see the
federal judiciary get busy writing 139-page rulings about, the
contents of local high school science syllabuses would not feature on
that list.

Leaving aside the issue of federalism, though, I think you are a bit
harsh on Judge Jones (a GWB appointee, by the way) when you write of
him “mak[ing] authoritative pronouncements about what ‘is science’.”
If the judge were setting himself up as a metaphysician, that would
indeed be nuts, but I don’t see that in the ruling. Judge Jones is
obliged, by the nature of the case, to consider whether Intelligent
Design falls within the definition of “science” as that word is
commonly understood; and, if it does not, to discover the motives of
the school board in recommending I.D. to students as part of their
science instruction. In other words, he has to make a determination
as to whether a certain party’s use of a word–the word
“science”–agrees with our common definition of that word. This is
the kind of thing judges have to do all the time. In contract law
cases, they do little else. And in doing that, Judge Jones can hardly
avoid spelling out what, according to his best information and
understanding, is the current common designation of the word

In a libertarian Neverland (or even, to a fair approximation, just in
the USA of a few decades ago) school boards could teach what they
liked without the federal govt getting involved. That, in my opinion,
and I think yours, was a happier state of affairs. Students who
graduated in districts that taught gibberish would be at a net
disadvantage in the job market as against students from
better-informed school districts. After a while everyone would notice
this, and things would sort themselves out by a process of, well,
natural selection.

Even in that libertarian paradise, though, if any kind of
communally-funded education were carried on–anything above the level
of simple parental instruction–disputes would arise over syllabus
contents, parents would feel aggrieved that their children were not
being taught the school subjects as advertised and commonly
understood, and would seek redress of their grievances. Where should
they seek redress for those grievances, but in the courts? And what
could those courts then do but deliver judgements about whether
“science” (or “Spanish,” or “metalwork”) as taught by school district
X was in reasonable conformity with the commonly understood meanings
of “science” (or “Spanish,” or “metalwork”)? That is not metaphysics,
only jurisprudence–disputes about different parties’ usage of the
same words, and the intentions of the parties in taking up those
usages. To probe into those disputes, and the usages and intentions
that cause them, is not “nuts”; it’s a judge’s job.


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