Friday, September 23, 2005

God And Man In Pennsylvania

The fight over the teaching of intelligent design in public schools is headed into court:

A federal judge in Pennsylvania will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit that both sides say could set the fundamental ground rules for how American students are taught the origins of life for years to come.

At issue is an alternative to the standard theory of evolution called "intelligent design." Proponents argue that the structure of life on Earth is too complex to have evolved through natural selection, challenging a core principle of the biological theory launched by Charles Darwin's "The Origin of Species" in 1859. Instead, contend adherents of intelligent design, life is probably the result of intervention by an intelligent agent.Intelligent design has been bubbling up since 1987, when the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not teach the biblical account of creation instead of evolution, because doing so would violate the constitutional ban on establishment of an official religion.

The suit, brought by 11 parents, challenges the Dover Area School District's adoption last year of an addition to the science curriculum directing teachers - in addition to teaching evolution- to tell students about intelligent design and refer them to an alternative textbook that champions it. Three opposing board members resigned after the vote.

The parents contended that the directive amounted to an attempt to inject religion into the curriculum in violation of the First Amendment. Their case was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation for Church and State, with support from Scott's organization.

The school board is being defended pro bono by the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian law firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. The case is being heard without a jury in Harrisburg by U.S. District Judge John Jones III, whom President Bush appointed to the bench in 2002.

Science organizations have generally turned their backs on forums in which they have been challenged to defend Darwinian evolution, on the theory that engaging the intelligent design school in any way is to take its ideas too seriously. For example, when the Kansas Board of Education held hearings this year on new science standards that criticized evolution, science groups boycotted.

The Pennsylvania case, however, gives scientists the chance to go on the attack, forcing intelligent-design advocates to defend their beliefs. But because local school boards have almost complete latitude to set the content of the curriculum, the plaintiffs must navigate a narrow path.

It isn't enough for them to discredit intelligent design - indeed, that is almost irrelevant to the legal question. Instead, what they must do is show that the school board's decision would have an unconstitutionally religious purpose and effect, Scott said.

There is more to read in the whole article.

If we set aside, for the time being, possible issues of constitutionality, why on earth is intelligent design being taught in the science classrooms?

Traditionally, our public schools' science curriculum has emphasized teaching pupils the use of the scientific method as a means for investigating and testing both new and accepted hypotheses and theories. The inclusion of intelligent design in our science courses would necessitate the fundamental re-structuring of that curriculum.

As a practicing classroom teacher, I consider the controversy over the teaching of intelligent design is similar to that which has embroiled The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. No matter what the outcome, the litigation will continue. I just wish that the United States Supreme Court would make a definitive ruling on the matter and be done with it, once and for all.

Our public school teaching corps needs to know one way or the other, so we can get on with the job of instructing our students.

Related: The Politburo Diktat, Pharyngula
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