October 12, 2005

Professor slams intelligent design in Penn. schools

By Jon Hurdle

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - A professor on
Wednesday slammed the teaching of intelligent design as a blow
to science education as he testified in a lawsuit over whether
the theory should be introduced in schools as an alternative to

Teaching intelligent design is "probably the worst thing I
have ever heard of in science education," said Brian Alters,
who teaches science education at Harvard University and McGill
University in Montreal and was called as an expert witness by
parents suing the Dover, Pennsylvania, school district.

The federal court trial over teaching theories of human
origins in U.S. schools pits Christian conservatives, who say
nature is so complex it must have been the work of a God-like
creator, against teachers and scientists who back Charles
Darwin's theory of evolution.

The case, seen as a major test of the issue, has echoes of
the famed Scopes Monkey trial of 1925 when lawyers squared off
in a Tennessee courthouse over the teaching of Darwin's work.

In Dover schools, ninth-grade biology students are given a
four-paragraph statement suggesting intelligent design as an
alternative to evolution and steering them to a book explaining
the theory. The district says the policy does not amount to

The 11 parents bringing the federal lawsuit say the policy
is religiously based and illegal because it violates the U.S.
Constitution's separation of church and state.

Alters testified the statement amounted to teaching because
it was part of the learning process and that teaching the
theory may force students to choose between God and science.

"Evolution does not deny the existence of God," he said.
"It's not about God. You can play the game of science and still
have your religious beliefs."

Alters warned that high school students who were taught
intelligent design may suffer a loss of credibility in college
academics by mixing theology and science.

"It engenders misconceptions not only about evolution but
also about the whole process of science," he said.

Alters cited a recent survey by the 50,000-member National
Science Teachers Association showing that 31 percent of its
members reported being under pressure to teach creationism or
other nonscientific beliefs in science classes.

In at least 30 U.S. states, proponents of intelligent
design are trying to introduce it into classrooms through
school boards, state education standards or state legislation.

The trial is in its third week and is expected to last into
November. The defense is expected to begin presenting its case
on Monday.