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Judge rules against 'intelligent design' in science class

From Delia Gallagher and Phil Hirschkorn


Intelligent design

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A Pennsylvania school district cannot teach in science classes a concept that says some aspects of science were created by a supernatural being, a federal judge has ruled.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge John Jones ruled that teaching "intelligent design" would violate the Constitutional separation of church and state.

"We have concluded that it is not [science], and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents," Jones writes in his 139-page opinion posted on the court's Web site. (Opinion, pdf)

"To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions," Jones writes. (Watch a recap of the case -- 2:23)

Intelligent design claims the complexity of some systems of nature cannot be explained by evolution but must be attributed to a designer or supernatural being.

The Dover Area School District, about 25 miles from the state capital, sought to become the first in the nation to require high school science teachers to teach the concept of intelligent design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution.

Jones described the school board's decision as "breathtaking inanity."

"Because Darwin's Theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact," said the statement that the old school board approved in a 6-3 vote in October 2004. "With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind."

'Of Pandas and People'

That school board mandated the teaching for ninth-grade biology classes and directed school libraries to purchase an alternative textbook, "Of Pandas and People," which advocated the concept. The town has since voted out eight of nine board members.

A lawsuit challenging the policy was brought in December 2004 by 11 parents in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Jones presided over a six-week trial that ended last month. His decision applies only to the Pennsylvania school district.

His decision would block the school district's plan "requiring teachers to denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution, and from requiring teachers to refer to a religious, alternative theory known as ID."

Jones says in his ruling that he did not doubt that intelligent design advocates "have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors," but he also said scientific experts testified that Darwin's theory "in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."

Jones: Not an 'activist judge'

Jones -- an appointee of President Bush, who backs the teaching of intelligent design -- defended his decision in personal terms.

"Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist court," Jones writes.

"Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on intelligent design, who in combination drove the board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy," he said.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "Children in public schools deserve top quality science education and freedom from religious indoctrination and today they were granted both."

A 'troubling decision'

Richard Thompson, a spokesman for the Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center, which aided the school district, called Jones' verdict a "troubling decision."

"The founders of this country would be astonished at the thought that this simple curriculum change established religion in violation of the Constitution that they drafted," Thompson said.

Jones said of the defendants, "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose" behind the intelligent design policy.

In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that Louisiana could not teach creationism because it would "restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint."

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