October 12, 2005
Professor Slams Intelligent Design in Schools
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania -- 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 evolution.
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 teaching.
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.