The left-leaning American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit on December 14 against the Dover County School Board (Pennsylvania, USA), claiming the school board’s October 2004 decision to teach alternative theories to evolution violated the religious rights of parents and students in the school district.
The Dover school district, with approximately 2,800 students, is believed to be the first in the nation to require biology teachers to present intelligent design (the idea that life is too complex to have come about randomly and must have been created by some divine being) as an alternative to evolution.1
The lawsuit says that presenting intelligent design in public school classrooms promotes religious beliefs under the guise of science education.2
As part of the revised science curriculum, Dover teachers are required to read the following statement to students in ninth-grade biology classes:
Because Darwin’s Theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered. The Theory is not a fact. Gaps in the Theory exist for which there is no 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 (see Teachers committee makes “intelligent” choice!) is available for students to see if they would like to explore this view in an effort to gain an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves. As is true with any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind.3
The Dover school board is riding a popular wave of resentment against teaching “evolution as fact.” R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told viewers of MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” that “the theory of evolution has become an intellectual pacifier for the secular left in America,” and “the desire of a Pennsylvania school system to teach intelligent design is a signal that parents are fed up with standard liberal teaching on the origins of humanity.”
Mohler also pointed out that a majority of Americans want creation science taught in public schools.4 Recent polls, including a December 10 Newsweek poll, indicate that 60 percent of Americans favor teaching creation science in addition to evolution in public school. Forty-three percent said they favor teaching creation science instead of evolution in public schools.5
According to advocates and critics of intelligent design, this case could test how far opponents of evolution can go in shaping the teaching of science.6
Because of its potential precedent, this case has received international attention, including the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and The Guardian (UK).
So what do the advocates of intelligent design think of the Dover lawsuit?
Phillip Johnson, whose book Darwin on Trial launched the intelligent design movement approximately 13 years ago, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the Dover school board did not do what he recommended. Johnson thinks it is ill-advised to mandate teaching intelligent design. (Likewise, AiG has stated many times that it does not favor the mandating of the teaching of alternative ideas to evolution. Can you imagine how staunch atheists would caricature arguments for a “designer”?)
Johnson, who does not oppose teaching evolution, said it should be presented as theory with potentially serious flaws and questions. “Just teach evolution with a recognition that it’s controversial,” Johnson said. “A huge percentage of the American public is skeptical of it.”7
What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory.“What should be required is full disclosure of the scientific evidence for and against Darwin’s theory, which is the approach supported by the overwhelming majority of the public,” said Dr. John G. West, associate director of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.8
So what about claims that intelligent design is “science under the guise of religion”? Johnson answered that question in the San Francisco Enquirer (December 12), saying, “it’s the Darwinists who are religious dogmatics.” “The Darwinian revolution allowed the professional scientists to replace the clergy as the priesthood of society. Every society has a priesthood. The priesthood is the body of experts which has exclusive license to tell the creation story to that culture.”
As AiG predicted in an October 21 article (Science curriculum decision in Pennsylvania may be a first), the Dover school board action was taken to court. While AiG supports efforts to promote academic freedom and to question evolution, we believe it is counterproductive to mandate that evolutionists teach alternative ideas. The ultimate issue is the truth and authority of the Word of God—the Bible.
Granted, design arguments are a useful tool for opening discussion. But the only hope for halting the collapse of Western culture is to address its broken biblical foundations. Christians must continue to spread the truth in their churches and communities, so that people in the culture can begin to see that biblical history, beginning with Genesis 1–11, offers the only effective explanation (and solution) for the problems of the real world. As the hearts of individuals change, then the public outcry for wise political change should swell as well. This grassroots effort to proclaim the creation/gospel message can transcend and override the efforts of school boards and politics.
So how will this effort to require teachers to teach intelligent design in Dover turn out? It is almost sure to fail. God promises, however, that the faithful preaching of His Word, showing its relevance to science, history and culture, “shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).