News Articles

Intelligent Design defense begins in Pa. school trial

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)–Intelligent Design is based on provable, scientific evidence, a key witness testified as attorneys for a Pennsylvania school board began their defense of a policy attempting to balance the teaching of Darwinian evolution.

As a great-grandson of evolutionist Charles Darwin looked on, Lehigh University professor and author Michael Behe told the packed courtroom that he was not aware of any research done “in a detailed and rigorous fashion” showing “how immune systems or their irreducibly complex components could have arisen through natural selection and random mutation.”

Intelligent Design, which holds that living things are so complex they must have been created, is at odds with Darwin’s theory which posits that all life, including humans, shares a common ancestry and developed over millions of years through random mutation and natural selection. Evolution also contends that man evolved from apes.

Behe said Intelligent Design theory allows for the existence of a designer in light of the “purposeful arrangement of parts,” for example, in complex biochemical processes such as blood clotting, which can’t be explained through the theory of evolution. It makes no difference that the designer is not identified, he said.

The trial began Sept. 26, almost a year after 11 people whose children attend or plan to attend Dover, Pa., schools, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the Dover Area School Board’s decision to tell students about the existence of Intelligent Design was a backdoor attempt to bring religion into the classroom, violating what they see as the constitutional separation of church and state.

The case of Kitzmiller v. Dover is the first time a court has considered the validity of Intelligent Design and whether it can be part of a public school science curriculum. The case represents the first court review of evolution in nearly 20 years.

Matthew Chapman, Darwin’s great-great grandson who sat in the courtroom during Behe’s testimony Oct. 17, doesn’t think that evolution should still have doubters. “I don’t even think it’s about Darwin anymore…. I think Darwin has been used as a demonizing symbol,” Chapman told the Chicago Tribune. A director and screenwriter, he is making a documentary about the trial and writing about it for Harper’s magazine.

The Dover school board adopted a policy in October 2004 that requires teachers to read the following statement to ninth-grade science students before they commence study of chapters 15-17 in their biology textbook:

“The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is part.

“Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is not evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

“Intelligent Design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, “Of Pandas and People,” is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what Intelligent Design actually involves.

“With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the Origin of Life to individual students and their families. As a Standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on Standards-based assessments.”

The school board, after three weeks of being pounded by plaintiffs, opened its case with Behe, a fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, as its first witness. Behe, who wrote the chapter on blood-clotting for “Of Pandas and People,” said in court that bacterial flagellum, a self-propelling entity encased in a cell, along with processes such as blood-clotting, suggest an irreducible complexity that bear the mark of a designer.

“Intelligent design relies on physical, empirical, observable evidence from nature plus logical inferences,” Behe noted. Eric Rothschild, an attorney for the plaintiffs, grilled Behe during three days of cross-examination. Despite the plaintiffs’ attempt to link Intelligent Design with creationism, Behe said creationism is “180 degrees different from Intelligent Design, a scientific theory which makes no reference to the Bible or a divine creator.”

Rothschild pointed out to Behe that most major scientific associations in the country support evolution and reject Intelligent Design. “Your own university has taken a position against Intelligent Design,” Rothschild said. He presented a statement to the court by Lehigh’s biology department that it is “unequivocal in its support of evolution” and “intelligent design has no basis in science.”

Behe countered that while various science organizations have gone on record as opposed the teaching of Intelligent Design in public schools, they “misunderstand and mischaracterize Intelligent Design.”

“It’s the nature of the bureaucracy, I think, to issue statements like this,” he said.

During the second day of his testimony, Behe said, “When you start putting constraints on science, science suffers.” On several occasions, the biochemistry professor compared the scientific community’s resistance to Intelligent Design with the way it shunned the Big Bang theory, which was first proposed by a Belgian priest in 1927.

Students, Behe told the court, deserve the opportunity for exposure to another theory, such as Intelligent Design, so they can “look at the data in a couple of different ways.”

Behe continually hammered on the most oft-repeated criticism of evolution, that it has too many gaps. For example, the Lehigh professor has written extensively about the immune system of vertebrates or things with backbones.

There has been no evidence on how the immune system has evolved, Behe testified. Taking issue with him, Rothschild presented Behe with a binder that contained 58 peer-reviewed articles on the evolution of the immune system and asked him if they represented adequate evidence in support of evolution.

“I’m not confident the immune system arose through Darwinian causes,” Behe responded.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Dover Area School District Supt. Richard Nilsen testified that he didn’t recommend Of Pandas and People as a science textbook, as some school board members had wanted, because teachers complained that it was outdated, contained some faulty science and was too high of a reading level for 9th graders to comprehend. Eventually, Nilsen said, the board and faculty agreed to make it a reference book.

The plaintiffs are represented, pro bono, by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Separation of Church and State and the Philadelphia law firm of Pepper Hamilton. The school district is represented, for no charge, by attorneys from the Thomas More law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. The non-jury trial is being argued before U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III.

    About the Author

  • James Patterson