Wednesday, September 28, 2005

God versus science debate continues in court


God versus science debate continues in court

By Jon Hurdle

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Members of a Pennsylvania school board were motivated by their religious beliefs when they decided "intelligent design" should be taught to biology students along with Darwin's theory of evolution, witnesses testified in federal court on Tuesday.

Eleven parents are suing the Dover Area School District to stop the teaching of intelligent design, saying it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

Proponents of the intelligent design theory say life is so complex it could only have been designed by a higher, intelligent being and not via the Darwinian natural selection theory widely accepted by scientists. Critics argue it is a thinly veiled version of creationism.

Bryan Rehm, a Dover physics teacher until June 2004, told the court about a meeting where former school board member Bill Buckingham championed the introduction of the alternative to evolution.

Buckingham complained the ninth-grade biology textbook being used was "laced with Darwinism," Rehm testified in U.S. District Court.

Rehm recalled Buckingham making a reference to Jesus' crucifixion: "Two thousand years ago, somebody died on a cross. Can't somebody stand up and do something for him?"

Aralene Callahan, a former school board member and one of the plaintiffs, said Buckingham told a board meeting, "You can't expect me to believe that I was ever descended from apes and monkeys."

The trial over teaching man's origins in U.S. schools pits Christian conservatives against teachers and scientists in what is seen as the biggest test of the issue since the late 1980s. It also echoes the famous Scopes Monkey trial of 1925, when lawyers squared off in a Tennessee courthouse over the teaching of Darwin's work.

Callahan also said another board member, Alan Bonsell, had argued the biology curriculum should contain equal measures of evolution and creationism.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism -- the belief that Earth and its beings were created by God and not by natural selection -- could not be taught in public schools since it violated the separation of church and state.

More than 30 U.S. states are considering measures to teach alternatives to evolution. The Harrisburg case is the first to challenge such initiatives in court and is widely expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court, regardless of the outcome.

President George W. Bush has said schools should teach both evolution and intelligent design.

The Dover school board's policy, implemented in January, requires that students are read a four-paragraph statement saying there are "gaps" in the theory of evolution and that students should consider alternative explanations of the origins of life, including intelligent design. The statement advises them of a textbook available in the school library that delves into intelligent design.

The board argues its policy does not amount to teaching intelligent design, but merely makes students aware of an alternative to evolution.

"This had absolutely nothing to do with balance or fairness," Callahan said during the second day of the trial. "It was merely intended to introduce religion into the biology curriculum and to pretend otherwise is preposterous."

Another of the Dover parents, Tammy Kitzmiller, told the court that she allowed her 14-year-old daughter to drop the biology class because she was concerned over the policy.

The trial is expected to last five weeks.