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Prof’s view of Intelligent Design disputed by attorney at Pa. trial

HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)–A university professor garnered headlines when she testified that there are significant links between Intelligent Design and creationism at the outset of a much-publicized federal trial in Pennsylvania.

Her views, however, were quickly disputed by proponents of Intelligent Design, including the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor, Mich., which contend that Intelligent Design is based on empirical evidence not religion.

The non-jury trial, which began Sept. 26 in U.S. Middle District Court in Harrisburg and is scheduled to continue into November, marks the first time a U.S. court has been asked to rule whether Intelligent Design can be taught in public schools. And it is seen as the most significant court challenge to Darwin’s theory of evolution in nearly 20 years.

Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, testified that Intelligent Design’s position on just about every issue is “right out of the creationist’s playbook.” Forrest said Oct. 6 that Intelligent Design and creationism are essentially one in the same.

Eleven parents have joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in a lawsuit against the Dover Area School District over its policy of informing science students that Intelligent Design could be an alternative to the theory of evolution.

The Dover Area School Board adopted the controversial policy in October 2004. It requires schools to briefly expose students to the existence of the Intelligent Design theory. At the same time, the policy prohibits teachers from teaching Intelligent Design or creationism or presenting their religious viewpoints.

The district’s policy means that Dover schools must read the following four paragraphs verbatim to ninth-grade students prior to their beginning study in their biology textbooks of chapters 15-17:

“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 a 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 Origins 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 plaintiffs in the case say the statement is an attempt by the district to introduce religion in the classroom, which they say violates the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That clause states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

Much of Forrest’s testimony was based on a paper published in 2001 by former University of California, Berkeley law professor Phillip Johnson, titled, “The State of the Wedge.” The paper outlined a way for Intelligent Design supporters to “wedge” their way into classrooms and science over 20 years, Forrest said.

This could be accomplished, Forrest said, by unifying Christians, promoting the idea of a creator, challenging evolution and overthrowing science’s methodology in order to accommodate Christians’ beliefs. Forrest, in her testimony, also admitted that she does not believe in God.

But Richard Thompson, lead attorney for the district who is from the Thomas More Law Center, told Baptist Press that Forrest misrepresented the facts.

“The state of Pennsylvania’s academic standard requires students to be taught the theory of evolution and to be tested on it,” Thompson said. “We’re saying, listen, the students still are learning evolution, they’re still being tested on evolution. The only thing they were told was there was this other concept. So how does that establish religion?”

Thompson also questioned Forrest’s credibility on the subject, noting that she was on the board of the Secular Humanist Society of New Orleans; has been a member of the ACLU since the 1970s; and is a member of the board of directors for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

“Intelligent Design is a legitimate scientific theory held by legitimate, credible scientists,” Thompson said. “Now there may be religious implications to that scientific theory but the theory itself is not religious, the theory itself is science.” Thompson noted that “there are a whole host of religious implications to Darwin’s theory of evolution. When I cross-examined Barbara Forrest, I just started spouting off comments that the foremost evolutionists were making about religion, not about the science but about religion.

Describing how Forrest and other witnesses for the plaintiffs have mischaracterized Intelligent Design, Thompson said, “The main mischaracterization that they have made is they have argued that Intelligent Design is an inherently religious concept. It is not based upon faith or Scripture. The conclusions of Intelligent Design might be compatible with many religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that theory itself is based upon religious belief. It’s based upon a scientific study of biology. It’s based upon a scientific study of the empirical evidence.”

Casey Luskin, program officer in policy and legal affairs with the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, agreed. Luskin told Baptist Press that Intelligent Design theory looks at the type of information that intelligent agents tend to produce when they act. Intelligence Designers say let’s look at nature and see if we can find natural objects which have that same kind of information.

“A lot of Barbara Forrest’s testimony has come into question because it’s what you called hearsay testimony,” Luskin said. “I’m very suspicious that Barbara Forrest might be misrepresenting Phillip Johnson in what she says he says there. For us, this is not an issue about religion or the Bible; this is about science. It’s not science versus religion; this is science versus science. Intelligent Design is a scientific theory. It uses the scientific method to make its claims. It’s not based upon the Bible. It’s not based upon any religious premises.

“Many people may see it as being compatible with their religious views but that doesn’t mean that the argument itself is stemming from a religious underpinning,” he said. “It’s stemming from the empirical evidence.”

In another development, a group of 85 scientists filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case asking Judge John E. Jones III to deny the plaintiffs’ argument that Intelligent Design is unscientific. The scientists argue that the nature of science is not something the courts ought to decide; religious motivations are irrelevant to the scientific merits of a hypothesis; dissent among the scientific community is healthy; and existing scientific establishments are sometimes unable to admit they are in error.

Evolutionist Charles Darwin himself mentioned a creator in the final page of his book, “On the Origin of the Species,” Thompson noted. Darwin wrote, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
James Patterson is a freelance writer in Indianapolis.

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