A University of Idaho professor testified in favor of “intelligent design” this week, as a landmark trial over the use of the theory in a Pennsylvania school district drew to a close.
Scott Minnich, a microbiologist at UI, testified Thursday and Friday on behalf of the Dover, Pa., Area School Board, which voted in 2004 to require students to hear a statement about intelligent design and “gaps” in the theory of evolution in biology classes. Eight families are suing, saying the policy violates the constitutional ban on state promotion of religion because it essentially promotes a biblical view of creationism.
Attorneys made closing arguments Friday, and a judge is expected to rule in the case by January.
Minnich testified Thursday and Friday that he thinks high school students should discuss the concept of intelligent design in science classes, and he said that it’s a scientific theory despite the fact that it’s shunned by the mainstream research journals.
“To endorse intelligent design comes with risk because it’s a position against the consensus,” he said. “Science is not a democratic process.”
Intelligent design holds that life is too complex to have evolved gradually and randomly, as the majority scientific view about evolution holds. It has drawn sharp criticism from the scientific community and others, who see it as another form of creationism brought forth in the long debate over evolution.
Minnich’s appearance in the trial was one of the reasons UI President Tim White issued a statement of support for evolution Oct. 4. White said that evolution is the only scientific theory appropriate for the biology curriculum at UI, and that alternatives belong in social science or religion classes.
In the aftermath of White’s statement, some debated whether he had restricted academic freedom, but a university spokesman said at the time that White had not banned discussion of the issue – just whether intelligent design would be a formal part of the biology curriculum.
The UI’s Faculty Council voted 10-5 Tuesday to issue a statement reaffirming academic freedom at UI and asserting the primacy of the faculty in determining what is taught. The statement didn’t address the evolution controversy directly, though council Chairman Bob Zemetra has said he believes most faculty members support White’s position.
The Dover trial is the latest spark in the long-running, and often heated, debate over the origins of life.
” ‘Intelligent Design’ idiots spew their stone-age superstitions in PA schools,” reads one representative message in an online science forum.
A columnist for the York Daily Record took direct aim at Minnich this week over his most frequent argument in favor of intelligent design – the bacterial flagellum. Minnich and many intelligent-design supporters say the whiplike device is an example of “irreducible complexity” – a complicated system that could not operate at an intermediate, or evolutionary, stage. Columnist Mike Argento, writing that arguments about the flagellum had become commonplace and tiresome, concluded in Thursday’s paper, “It’s not about science. … It’s about putting religion into the public schools.”
Minnich testified that intelligent design is based on science and doesn’t require adherence to any religious belief. But many creationists have taken up its cause, and Minnich’s views on the bacterial flagellum are cited frequently in those circles.
On the stand this week, Minnich praised the intelligent-design statement approved by the Dover board.
In closing arguments Friday, the attorney for the families suing the district said that members of the school board pushed to add intelligent design because it promoted the Bible’s view of creation. “Intelligent design became the label for the board’s desire to teach creationism,” Eric Rothschild said.
Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the school board, countered that its October 2004 decision was intended to improve science education by calling attention to “a new, fledgling science movement.”