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Judge Strikes Down Teaching of Intelligent Design

A federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Tuesday that public schools cannot teach intelligent design as an alternative to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in science classes.

The ruling, which drew comparisons to the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925, is the first court test of intelligent design, a view that argues life is too complex to have evolved by chance. Proponents say the theory is different from creationism because it doesn’t claim the intelligent designer is necessarily the Christian God. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
But United States District Judge John E. Jones III disagreed, finding that “the overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”
 
Jones ruled that a policy adopted in October 2004 requiring biology teachers to read a statement saying evolution is a theory and not a fact and presenting intelligent design as an alternative explanation to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Darwin’s theory of human origins violated the Constitution’s ban on establishment of religion.
 
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics hailed the ruling “as a clear win for science education and the separation of church and state.”
 
After hearing from expert witnesses on both sides during a six-week trial, Jones said ID is not a science because it invokes a supernatural cause and has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community.
 
“While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science,” he wrote in a 139-page ruling.
 
Jones said the defendants tried to hide the fact that their motive for enforcing the policy was religious.
 
“We have been presented with a wealth of evidence which reveals that the District’s purpose was to advance creationism, an inherently religious view, both by introducing it directly under the label ID and by disparaging the scientific theory of evolution, so that creationism would gain credence by default as the only apparent alternative to evolution,” he wrote.
 
The ruling is the latest chapter in clashes over evolution dating back to the 1925 trial of Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes, who was fined $100 for violating a state law that banned the teaching of evolution. His conviction was overturned on a technicality, and the law was repealed in 1967.
 
Subsequent cases shifted to laws using scientific-sounding language requiring schools to teach “scientific creationism” or “creation science” alongside evolution. In 1987 the Supreme Court prohibited the teaching of creation science in public schools, saying it violated the Establishment Clause.
 
John West of the Discovery Institute, a think tank advocating intelligent design, called the latest decision “an attempt by an activist federal judge to stop the spread of a scientific idea,” adding that it “won’t work.”
 
“Anyone who thinks a court ruling is going to kill off interest in intelligent design is living in another world,” West said. “Americans don’t like to be told there is some idea that they aren’t permitted to learn about.”
 
Discovery Institute attorney Casey Luskin predicted “in the larger debate over intelligent design, this decision will be of minor significance.” Luskin said the ultimate validity of ID would be determined not by courts but by scientific evidence pointing to design.
 
But Parham, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.,-based Baptist Center for Ethics, said intelligent design is nothing more than “repackaged creationism.”
 
“Creationism is Christian fundamentalism’s explanation for the origin of the universe,” Parham said. “Creationism claims the Bible teaches a literal seven-day creation. Intelligent design winks that it has no religious basis for its theory, except a designer, a code word for God, who fashioned creation over an extended period of time. Intelligent design and creationism are different sides of the same coin. They have no role in a public school science classroom.”
 
David Masci, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, described the decision as “a slam dunk for supporters of evolution and a real defeat for Darwin’s opponents.”
 
“By ruling that it is unconstitutional to include intelligent design in classroom instruction, the district court has sent a strong warning to school boards across the country that may be considering finding a place for intelligent design in the science curriculum,” Masci said.
 
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Forum found deep religious and political differences over evolution and the origins of life. Overall, 60 percent believe that humans and other living things either have existed in their present form since the beginning of time or have evolved over time under the guidance of a Supreme Being. Most Americans (64 percent) also say they are open to the idea of teaching creationism along with evolution in the public schools.
 
But the BCE’s Parham said: “When politicians and conservative Christians argue that intelligent design should be taught in order to expose children to all ideas, they are claiming that all ideas are of equal value. Neither creationism nor intelligent design is on equal par with the theory of evolution. Alchemy is not on equal par with chemistry. Astrology is not on equal par with astronomy. Numerology is not on equal par with mathematics.
 
“As a Baptist, I applaud Judge John Jones’ decision that teaching intelligent design in a high school science class is unconstitutional because it advances ‘a particular version of Christianity.’ I’m grateful for his recognition that ‘intelligent design is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.’ I find his ruling a clear win for science education and the separation of church and state.
 
“As a Christian, who holds that the Bible is divinely inspired, I believe that the Genesis stories are about who and why, not how and when. The former is about faith; the latter is about science. Public-funded schools should educate children about science; churches and families should nurture their children into authentic faith.”  
 
An appeal of the ruling is unlikely. Voters in Dover in November ousted board members that adopted intelligent design, replacing them with a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
 
MEDIA STATEMENT BY ROBERT PARHAM
 
Judge’s Decision Advances Good Science and Separation of Church and State
 
By Robert Parham
 
Intelligent design is repackaged creationism—creationism is Christian fundamentalism’s explanation for the origin of the universe. Creationism claims the Bible teaches a literal 7-day creation. Intelligent design winks that it has no religious basis for its theory, except a designer, a code word for God, who fashioned creation over an extended period of time. Intelligent design and creationism are different sides of the same coin. They have no role in a public school science classroom.
 
When politicians and conservative Christians argue that intelligent design should be taught in order to expose children to all ideas, they are claiming that all ideas are of equal value. Neither creationism nor intelligent design is on equal par with the theory of evolution. Alchemy is not on equal par with chemistry. Astrology is not on equal par with astronomy. Numerology is not on equal par with mathematics.
 
As a Baptist, I applaud Judge John Jones’ decision that teaching intelligent design in a high school science class is unconstitutional because it advances “a particular version of Christianity.” I’m grateful for his recognition that “intelligent design is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.” I find his ruling a clear win for science education and the separation of church and state.
 
As a Christian, who holds that the Bible is divinely inspired, I believe that the Genesis stories are about who and why, not how and when. The former is about faith; the latter is about science. Public-funded schools should educate children about science; churches and families should nurture their children into authentic faith.  
 
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics. (www.ethicsdaily.com)