Evolution debate raging in local district court

By Abigail Keefe
October 14, 2005


History seems to be repeating itself as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg hears a case involving the mandatory exposure of students to the theory of intelligent design.

Last year the Dover Township School Board voted for an addition to the science curriculum that mandated that biology teachers read their students a piece on the theory of intelligent design before teaching evolution theory in class.

Eleven parents are suing the school board claiming that the reading of the theory promotes the Biblical story of creation and violates the First Amendment by teaching religious beliefs in a public school.

Basically the theory of intelligent design states that Darwin’s theory of evolution does not adequately explain the emergence of life on earth and therefore, life on earth must be the result of intervention from an unknown intelligent force. Many opponents of the theory regard this idea as simply a badly disguised version of the creationist theory. Defenders of the theory contest that the particular unknown intelligent force is never identified specifically as being of a religious nature and that this is simply a theory that has been created to account for gaps in Darwin’s theory.

The controversy over these two theories and the theory of intelligent design are by no means new ideas. The battle over religious and scientific ideas on evolution began in 1925 with the now infamous Scopes Monkey Trial in which a Tennessee biology teacher was fined for violating a state law that forbade the teaching of evolution theory.

After the trial, only two states adopted laws forbidding the teaching of evolution theory and these state laws were finally outlawed in 1968 by another landmark Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court also forbade the teaching of creationism or creation science, an obviously religious theory on the origins of life, in 1987. All of these cases have established firm laws on the teaching of evolution and particularly the separation of church and state in public schools. However it appears that this trial will again challenge those established precedents.

Dr. Kimberly Boyd, an associate professor of biology here at Cabrini, emphasized that the focus in any science class is still on the scientific method and those theories that can be proven using the scientific method. Boyd pointed out that there are two major flaws in the intelligent design theory.

The first is that the theory cannot be tested using the scientific method. The second is that science deals with the natural world and the concept of an unknown intelligent being is a supernatural idea.

Boyd did also maintain that it was not necessarily wrong in any way to talk about the idea of intelligent design in class. “I like to pose everything out to my students and let them make their own choices,” Boyd said.

Both the plaintiff and the defendants will be battling it out to try and prove their points. The plaintiffs are doing their best to establish the religious nature of intelligent design. The plaintiffs had John Haught, a theologian from Georgetown University, testify as an expert witness that intelligent design was basically a religious theory and has its origins in religion. The plaintiffs also had several fact witnesses, including some of the parents who are actually suing the school board, testify about the religious motivations behind adopting the policy. Some local Dover residents and former school board members went so far as to testify that they were termed atheists for not agreeing with the policy. After the plaintiffs witnesses for the defense, they will get their crack at trying to support the adoption of the intelligent design policy. The defense will try to prove that the theory of intelligent design does not endorse any religion specifically and that the motivation behind adopting this policy was academic and not religious.

This court case will no doubt result in a significant decision that will greatly affect the teaching of evolution theory and law regarding the separation of church and state. One of the big concerns of this case is that acceptance of intelligent design into public school curriculum is merely the first step weakening the First Amendment right separating church and state. The trial is expected to last approximately five weeks and could possibly wind up going to the Supreme Court.

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: Loquitur@yahoogroups.com . The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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Abigail Keefe

Abigail Keefe is a Cabrini College student studying communications, enjoying her time in Radnor, Pennsylvania. Abbie loves working for the school newspaper, the Loquitur, and is also passionate about everything that the communication field has to offer.

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