HARRISBURG, Pa. – A school district is undermining science education by raising false doubts about evolution and offering “intelligent design” as an alternative explanation for life’s origins, a biologist testified at the start of a landmark trial.
“It’s the first movement to try to drive a wedge between students and the scientific process,” said Brown University’s Kenneth Miller, the first witness called Monday by lawyers for eight families suing the Dover Area School District.
Dover is believed to be the nation’s first school system to require that students be exposed to the intelligent design concept.
The policy requires school administrators to read a statement before classes on evolution that says Charles Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps.” It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.
Intelligent design holds that Darwin’s theory of natural selection over time cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.
It implies that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force.
The eight families say the district policy in effect promotes the Bible’s view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.
But the rural school district of about 3,500 students argues it is not endorsing any religious view and is merely giving ninth-grade biology classes a glimpse of differences over evolution.
“This case is about free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda,” said Patrick Gillen, of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., in his opening statement.
The center, which lobbies for what it sees as the religious freedom of Christians, is defending the school district.
“Dover’s modest curriculum change embodies the essence of liberal education,” Gillen said.
The nonjury trial before U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III is expected to take five weeks.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs began their case by arguing that intelligent design is a religious concept inserted in the school district’s curriculum by the school board.