11.04.2005

Natural Science vs. Supernatural Science Trial Ends with Accusations of Perjury



'Intelligent Design' Case Draws to Close

from Reuters / The New York Times / The Associated Press / Religion News Service [Updated 11/8/05]

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania - One attorney accused a witness of lying on Friday during closing arguments in the trial over whether U.S. public schools should teach the theory of intelligent design.

In his blunt closing argument, the plaintiffs' lawyer, Eric Rothschild, accused the intelligent design movement of lying, just as he said the school board members had lied when they testified that their purpose for changing the science curriculum had nothing to do with religion.

They lied, he said, when they testified that they did not make or hear religious declarations at board meetings, and when they claimed they did not know that 50 copies of an intelligent design textbook were bought for the school with money collected at a church and funneled through the father of a school board member, Alan Bonsell.

This week, the judge himself grew agitated as he questioned Bonsell about whether he had lied about the books. Rothschild reminded the judge of that interchange and said that the board's dishonesty "mimics" the intelligent design movement.

"Its essential religious nature does not change whether it is called 'creation science' or 'intelligent design' or 'sudden emergence theory,'" Rothschild said. "The shell game has to stop."

U.S. District Judge John Jones said he wants to decide by year's end the case that addresses whether a Pennsylvania school district violated the U.S. Constitution when it introduced intelligent design - a theory that competes with evolution - into science classes.

The first legal challenge to the teaching of intelligent design is being watched in at least 30 states where Christian conservatives are planning similar initiatives.

Rothschild, arguing for 11 parents who sued the Dover, Pennsylvania, Area School District and oppose the theory's inclusion in the curriculum, told the court that intelligent design was creationism in disguise. He said it was introduced by Christians on the school board whose agenda was clearly religious.

"Intelligent design became the label for the board's desire to teach creationism," Rothschild said.

He accused former school board member William Buckingham of lying when Buckingham testified he had mistakenly spoken in favor of creationism in a television interview because he had never been interviewed before and felt "like a deer in the headlights."

"That was no deer in the headlights," Rothschild said. "That deer was wearing shades and was totally at ease."

Patrick Gillen, a lawyer for the Dover Area School Board, argued that the concept was intended to call attention to "a new, fledgling science movement."

The school district's policy "has the primary purpose and primary effect of advancing science education," Gillen said.

After both sides made closing statements, ck Gillen evoked a biblical theme, noting that Thursday marked the 40th day and 40th night since the trial began.

"That is an interesting coincidence," Jones responded. "But it was not by design."

Many of the more than 100 people in the ninth-floor courtroom erupted in laughter, then applause.

Earlier Friday, the defense concluded its case with testimony from University of Idaho microbiology professor Scott Minnich, who supports discussing the concept in high school science classes.

Minnich said under cross-examination that intelligent design articles are not found in the major peer-reviewed scientific journals because it is a minority view.

"To endorse intelligent design comes with risk because it's a position against the consensus. Science is not a democratic process," he said.

Intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex they must have been the work of an unnamed intelligent creator instead of the result of natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution.

Intelligent design foes say it is a thinly disguised form of creationism - the belief that God created the world as described in the Bible - whose teaching in public schools has been outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the constitutional separation of church and state.

The nonjury courtroom drama over man's origins is reminiscent of the famous Scopes Monkey trial, when lawyers squared off in a courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925.

Gillen called intelligent design "the next great paradigm shift in science" and "a legitimate educational objective."

He defended school board member Alan Bonsell, a leading advocate of the policy, conceding Bonsell was a creationist but saying he was not trying to impose his views on students.

The school board member's concern was to counteract "science taught as dogma," Gillen said.

The Dover school district agreed to mention the theory in October 2004. Under the policy, ninth-grade biology students must read a four-paragraph statement saying there are gaps in Darwin's theory and that there are other explanations of the origins of life including intelligent design.

Opponents of intelligent design fear anti-evolution policies will be adopted by school boards in many states if the Dover policy stands.

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Council for Science Education, which promotes teaching evolution, predicted outside the court that there would be a flood of similar policies across the country if the school district prevails.

Both sides are expected to appeal if they lose.


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