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Witness cites school board's anti-evolution bias

The Dover school board showed a clear bias against teaching evolution before it voted to require students to be exposed to “intelligent design” in science class, a former board member testified.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Dover school board showed a clear bias against teaching Darwinian evolution before it voted to require students to be exposed to “intelligent design” in science class, a former board member testified Tuesday.

The testimony about the school board's intentions came on the second day of a trial over whether the intelligent-design concept has a place in public schools.

Aralene “Barrie” Callahan, who was once on the board of the Dover Area School District and is now among its challengers, said she believed the intelligent-design mandate was religion-based.

Callahan testified that board member Alan Bonsell — during a retreat in 2003 — “expressed he did not believe in evolution and if evolution was part of the biology curriculum, creationism had to be shared 50-50.”

At a school board meeting in June 2004, when she was no longer on the board, Callahan recalled board member Bill Buckingham complaining that a biology book recommended by the administration was “laced with Darwinism.”

“They were pretty much downplaying evolution as something that was credible,” she said.

In the lawsuit challenging the intelligent design policy, Buckingham was further quoted as saying: “This country was founded on Christianity and our students should be taught as such.”

Proponents of intelligent design hold that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection cannot adequately explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms.

In October 2004, the Dover board voted 6-3 to require teachers to read a brief statement about intelligent design to students before classes on evolution. The statement says Darwin’s theory is “not a fact” and has inexplicable “gaps,” and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.

Eight families sued, saying that the policy promotes the Bible’s view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state. The school district, which is believed to be the nation's first to impose such a requirement, argues that it is merely letting students know there are differences of opinion about evolution and not endorsing any religious view.

In a separate development Tuesday, two freelance newspaper reporters who covered the school board in June 2004 both invoked their First Amendment rights and declined to provide a deposition to lawyers for the school district.

Both are expected in court Wednesday to respond to a subpoena to testify at trial, said Niles Benn, a lawyer for the papers.

Lawyers for the school district have questioned the accuracy of articles in which the reporters wrote that board members discussed creationism during public meetings. Patrick Gillen, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, said the defense would ask U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III on Wednesday to issue a contempt citation.

In other testimony Tuesday, plaintiff Tammy Kitzmiller said that in January, her younger daughter chose not to hear the intelligent-design statement — an option given all students — putting her in an awkward position.

“My 14-year-old daughter had to make the choice between staying in the classroom and being confused ... or she had to be singled out and face the possible ridicule of her friends and classmates,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, who testified on Monday that intelligent design was not accepted by scientists, was asked by a school attorney whether faith and reason are compatible.

“I believe not only that they are compatible but that they are complementary,” said Miller, who earlier told the court he was a practicing Roman Catholic.

Miller also backed off a statement in a 1995 biology textbook he co-wrote that said evolution was “random and undirected.” Miller said he missed that reference by a co-author and that he did not believe evolution was random and undirected.

On Monday, Miller said the policy undermines scientific education by wrongly raising doubts about evolutionary theory. “It’s the first movement to try to drive a wedge between students and the scientific process,” he said.

The Dover lawsuit is the latest chapter in a history of evolution litigation dating to the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee nearly 80 years ago. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that  public schools must not balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism, on the grounds that such moves would represent state establishment of religion.