US citizens hail court ruling

December 20, 2005

Dec. 20, 2005--Scientists and nonscientists alike applauded a US district court decision ruling that a school board violated the Constitution by requiring high school science students to learn about "intelligent design," the idea that living species formed through the intervention of a supernatural designer. The decision shows that the US is committed to a strong science curriculum, which will help the US stay competitive in science and technology, experts say. According to others, the decision reveals that intelligent design is a disguised form of religious creationism, one that is promoted by organized public-relations strategies instead of research in scientific journals.

The US District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ruled that the York County (Pa.) school board violated the Constitution's principle to separate government and religion by requiring a four-paragraph statement to be read to high-school science students. The statement attacked evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology, and promoted intelligent design as alternative to evolution.

Judge Jones wrote in his decision released today ( " We hold that the ID Policy is unconstitutional pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

The decision promotes the teaching of sound and solid science in public school classrooms. "It is great to teach real controversies in school," says Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist and paleontologist at the University of California, Berkeley. "But 'intelligent design' is a false controversy, manufactured by its proponents. Its only 'design' is to confuse students about scientific evidence and methods. It has no standing at all in the scientific community, and the judge recognized this."

According to scientists, intelligent design is not a valid scientific alternative but a modern-day version of creationism, backed by an organized public-relations effort.

"History shows that attempts to push creationism in the public schools don't go away, they just adapt to the legal circumstances," says Eugenie Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education, which monitors intelligent design activity in the US.

According to Scott and others, a well-financed, Washington-based public relations effort for intelligent design misleads people by claiming that there is a scientific controversy over evolution, even though it is accepted by scientists and widely supported through intensive experiments and observations.

"It is already clear that the new slogan for the ID movement is going to be 'Teach the Controversy!' -- even though there is no scientific controversy over the validity of evolution in biology," Scott says.

"Calls to "teach both sides" of a controversy that does not exist would lead to the inclusion of non-scientific and anti-scientific doctrines in the classroom, and would dramatically weaken American science education," says Ken Miller, a Brown University biology professor who is the author of widely-used high school biology textbooks.

The decision will improve K-12 science education and thereby help the US stay competitive in science and technology, says Marshall Berman, a retired government scientist who has served as vice president for the New Mexico State Board of Education.

"The US is falling rapidly and drastically behind other countries in science and math education," Berman says. Without a much stronger focus on science, "US competitiveness is almost certainly destined to be second-class," he says. The decision, says Berman, makes very good sense economically, scientifically and constitutionally. sends the message that the US is focused on better science education.

Despite arguments to the contrary, evolution and religion can co-exist harmoniously, clergymembers say.

"There is no conflict between evolution and belief in God, but evolution belongs in the science classroom and theology, biblical or not, belongs in philosophy or religious discussions," says Charles W. Holsinger, an ordained Presbyterian minister who lives in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, in southern York County. "Belief in God should not stifle curiosity and research by assuming God is the answer to anything. The miracle and wonder of the natural world, including evolution, led me to believe in a God."

American Institute of Physics

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