“Intelligent design” cannot be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, a federal judge said Tuesday, ruling in one of the biggest courtroom clashes on evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial.
The Dover Area School Board violated the Constitution when it ordered that its biology curriculum must include “intelligent design,” the notion that life on Earth was produced by an unidentified intelligent cause, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled Tuesday.
The school board policy, adopted in October 2004, was believed to have been the first of its kind in the nation.
“The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy,” Jones wrote. “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 ID Policy.”
The board’s attorneys said members sought to improve science education by exposing students to alternatives to Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection causing gradual changes over time; intelligent-design proponents argue that it cannot fully explain the existence of complex life forms.
The plaintiffs argued that intelligent design amounts to a secular repackaging of creationism, which the courts have already ruled cannot be taught in public schools.
The Dover policy required students to hear a statement about intelligent design before ninth-grade biology lessons on evolution. The statement said Charles Darwin’s theory is “not a fact,” has inexplicable “gaps,” and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People,” for more information.
Jones said advocates of intelligent design “have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors” and that he didn’t believe the concept shouldn’t be studied and discussed.
“Our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom,” he wrote.
The dispute is the latest chapter in a long-running debate over the teaching of evolution dating back to the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which Tennessee biology teacher John T. Scopes was fined $100 for violating a state law that forbade teaching evolution. The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed his conviction on the narrow ground that only a jury trial could impose a fine exceeding $50, and the law was repealed in 1967.
Jones heard arguments in the fall during a six-week trial in which expert witnesses for each side debated intelligent design’s scientific merits. Other witnesses, including current and former school board members, disagreed over whether creationism was discussed in board meetings months before the curriculum change was adopted.
The controversy also divided the community and galvanized voters to oust eight incumbent school board members who supported the policy in the Nov. 8 school board election. They were replaced by a slate of eight opponents who pledged to remove intelligent design from the science curriculum.
The case is among at least a handful that have focused new attention on the teaching of evolution in the nation’s schools.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Georgia heard arguments over whether evolution disclaimer stickers placed in a school system’s biology textbooks were unconstitutional. A federal judge in January ordered Cobb County school officials to immediately remove the stickers, which called evolution a theory, not a fact.
In November, state education officials in Kansas adopted new classroom science standards that call the theory of evolution into question.