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All Sides of the Issue Belong in Classroom

This week, about 100 miles from the Liberty Bell, a trial is taking place in Harrisburg over the teaching of “intelligent design.” This is an opportunity for a federal judge to heal a crack in the law over how biological origins is taught in public schools.

The Dover school board has mandated that teachers discuss intelligent design in science courses. My institute doesn’t support that policy; it requires teachers to teach on a subject about which they may know very little. But the policy is not unconstitutional. That’s the argument being made by the American Civil Liberties Union, which, along with other groups, filed suit against the school district on behalf of 11 parents who objected to the policy. Teachers should have the academic freedom to mention it without fearing an ACLU lawsuit.

It is no secret that intelligent design is a fairly young scientific theory, currently supported by a minority of scientists. But it is being debated by the scientific community. In the last year, three research articles have been published in mainstream scientific journals supporting design theory. In the last five years, three high-profile academic publishers – including Cambridge University and MIT Press – have published volumes with scholarly articles both pro and con debating the scientific merits of intelligent design.

When school boards such as Dover’s mandate the teaching of such a new and controversial idea, however, they politicize a debate, which should be taking place among these scientists, free from all political stigmas. School boards are best advised to require the teaching of something many scientists already agree upon: that Neo-Darwinism fails to account for much of what we observe in biology.

Yet despite the Dover board’s poor policy choices, it did nothing unconstitutional simply by requiring that teachers mention intelligent design. So why the lawsuit?

The ACLU thinks that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional in all circumstances because it postulates a “supernatural designer.” Perhaps it needs a little lesson in design theory itself.

The textbook being used in Dover, Of Pandas and People, makes it clear that intelligent design theory does not address religious or metaphysical questions, such as the nature or identity of the designer. Consider these two clear disclaimers from Pandas:

“[I]f we… conclude that the intelligence responsible for biological origins is outside the universe (supernatural) or within it, we do so without the help of science.”

“[T]he concept of design implies absolutely nothing about beliefs normally associated with Christian fundamentalism, such as a young Earth, a global flood, or even the existence of the Christian God. All it implies is that life had an intelligent source.”

You wouldn’t learn any of this if you read the ACLU’s legal briefs, but Pandas makes it clear that when it comes to the nature or identity of the designer, “the intelligent design explanation has unanswered questions…” Contrary to the dubious arguments of the ACLU, design theory refrains from making untestable, unscientific, or unconstitutional claims about God or a “supernatural designer.” There should be nothing illegal about teaching students something we can learn through the scientific method: that life bears the informational characteristics we commonly find in objects we know were designed.

One federal court now has an opportunity to acknowledge that Darwinists are inconsistent to argue that “no design” is a scientific position while “actual design” is somehow a purely religious claim. The ACLU’s arguments are particularly weak when one realizes that design theory refuses to solve metaphysical questions which are beyond the scope of science.

I hope that U.S. District Judge John Jones III, who is hearing the trial, will recognize that this lawsuit is like the Scopes trial of 1925. Only now, the roles are reversed, for today, it is the Darwinists who seek to ban legitimate science from the classroom. May scientific truth and academic freedom ring.

Casey Luskin is the program officer for public policy and legal affairs for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture

Casey Luskin

Casey Luskin is an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law. He conducted geological research at Scripps Institution for Oceanography (1997-2002).