HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania - The plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the first legal challenge to teaching “intelligent design,” are expected to wrap up their case by early next week. Eleven parents filed the federal lawsuit against the Dover Area School Board arguing that presenting “intelligent design” in public school science classrooms violates students’ religious liberty. The parents are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton LLP.
The lawsuit challenges a controversial decision made in October 2004 by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present “intelligent design” as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution. “Intelligent design” is an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life. Witnesses have demonstrated that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science.
While the trial has frequently been dubbed Scopes Two, attorneys representing the parents say comparisons to McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education and Edwards v. Aguillard are more accurate. In McLean, a federal judge ruled that “creation science” did not qualify as a scientific theory, striking down Arkansas’ law requiring equal time for “creation science” and evolution. In Edwards, the Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring that creation science be taught with evolution was unconstitutional, because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.
The defense, which is led by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm, has repeatedly denied any connection between creationism and “intelligent design.” However, the testimony of Barbara Forrest, Ph.D., an expert on “intelligent design” and co-author of Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, undermined such claims. Forrest traced the development of Of Pandas and People, an “intelligent design”-focused textbook that is at the center of the Kitzmiller case. Comparing drafts of the textbook received after attorneys subpoenaed the book’s authors, Forrest showed that the publishers simply replaced the word “creationism” with the phrase “intelligent design” after the Supreme Court decision in Edwards.
“Creationism means a number of things,” Forrest testified. “First and foremost it means rejection of evolutionary theory in favor of special creation by a supernatural deity. It also involves a rejection of the established methodologies of science, and this is all for religious reason.”
Forrest also noted that “intelligent design” proponents hope to discredit evolution as part of a bigger push to give religion a more central role in American life. A strategy document written in 1999 by the Discovery Institute, the organization at the forefront of this movement, states, “Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”
Expert witness John Haught, a theology professor at Georgetown University, reinforced the religious nature of “intelligent design.”
“In my view, the way in which ‘intelligent design’ is used in the discourse that's in dispute, it does entail an essentially biblical and specifically Christian view of the world,” Haught said.
The parents who brought the lawsuit testified that they witnessed such religious motivations expressed by members of the Dover Area School Board when they voted to promote “intelligent design.” One of the parents, Beth Eveland, said, “I remember [Dover School Board member] Bill Buckingham saying, '2,000 years ago someone died on a cross. Isn't someone going to take a stand for him?'”
Casey Brown, who served on the school board with her husband, resigned after the contentious vote to adopt “intelligent design.” During her testimony, Brown said that she and her husband were called atheists for opposing the instruction of religious belief in science classes, and the board president told her she “would be going to hell.”
Ignoring such statements so far, the defense continues to assert that “intelligent design” is rooted in science, frequently citing Dr. Michael Behe’s work. However, expert witness Kenneth Miller, a biology professor at Brown University, said that Behe’s attempts to negate evolutionary theory does not demonstrate positive evidence for “intelligent design.”
“‘Intelligent design’ is not a testable theory and as such is not generally accepted by the scientific community,” said Miller.
Christy Rehm, another parent represented in the lawsuit, echoed this sentiment. “‘Intelligent design’ is not a scientific concept. It's a religious concept. And because I don't subscribe to that particular brand of religion, I feel that I and my daughter, my family, are being ridiculed, and my daughter feels the pressure,” testified Rehm. “I reserve the right to teach my child about religion. And I have faith in myself and in my husband and in my pastor to do that, not the school system.”
In addition to Forrest, Haught and Miller, expert witnesses for the plaintiffs included Robert T. Pennock , Ph.D., an associate professor of science and technology at Michigan State University; Brian Alters, Ph.D., an associate professor of education at McGill University; and Kevin Padian, Ph.D., a professor of integrative biology at University of California, Berkeley and curator of the university’s Museum of Paleontology.
The trial has sparked a national debate prompting school districts, elected officials, academics and religious leaders to publicly oppose teaching “intelligent design” in the science classroom. In a recent statement, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell said that the introduction of “intelligent design” in natural science courses “would be a blow to the integrity of education in California.” Similarly, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said the governor believes that “intelligent design” should not be taught in science classes in public schools.
Kitzmiller v. Dover is being argued in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The defense is expected to start its case early next week. The trial is scheduled to end on November 4. For more information on the case, visit www.aclu.org/evolution.
A web log with daily updates on the case is available at aclupa.blogspot.com/.
In addition, Dr. Jeremy Gunn, director of the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, is this week’s guest blogger at TPMCafe: www.tpmcafe.com/section/tableforone. Dr. Gunn will be discussing the Dover case and the public debate over “intelligent design” and evolution.