Challenge to evolution science teaching

Challenge to `intelligent design’ teaching

Julian Borger

Test care could decide how evolution is taught.

RELIGION AND science clashed in a drab Pennsylvania courtroom on Monday over a test case that could decide how evolution is taught in America’s state schools.

The civil trial, triggered last year by a classroom battle, marks the beginning of the first major legal assault on evolution science in 18 years. The case also represents the first legal test of “intelligent design,” the belief that life on earth is too complex to be explained by random genetic mutation and therefore a guiding force must be involved.

In Monday’s court hearings, supporters argued “intelligent design” does not stipulate what that guiding force might be, and is therefore not a religion.

Its opponents derided it as a mere repackaging of creationism, the religious dogma that God brought life into being in its present form a few thousand years ago.

It is a test of strength secularist organisations hope will prove decisive in destroying the scientific credibility of intelligent design once and for all. They are therefore determined to pursue it as far as the supreme court if necessary.

The contest was joined on Monday under the weak light bulbs of a federal district court in the Pennsylvania state capital of Harrisburg. In a chamber more accustomed to hearing arguments over taxes and copyright, lawyers debated the meaning of science and the origins of life.

The defendants were the school board from the school of Dover, Pennsylvania, which last year became the first district in the country to require its teachers to question the scientific underpinning of evolution.

“The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence,” Dover teachers had to tell their students. “Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view.”

The plaintiffs were 11 parents who claimed the statement was religious and therefore a violation of the constitutional separation between church and state.

In the U.S., the case is being portrayed as a replay of the Scopes trial of 1925, in which a Tennessee biology teacher was fined for breaking a state law banning the teaching of evolution. It was known as the “monkey trial” because the teacher, John Scopes, was derided for believing humans were descended from apes.

Secular science has won all the big legal battles since then, but not the struggle for American minds. In an echo of the Scopes trial, some of the Dover parents involved in the case were recently mocked at a local fair by opponents performing a monkey dance around them.

– Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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