"Intelligent design" is vastly similar to creationism and should be taught as religion, not science, a Catholic theologian testified Friday, on the fifth day of a trial over whether the concept belongs in a public school science curriculum as an alternative to evolution.
Georgetown University theology professor John F. Haught said that while intelligent-design proponents do not explicitly identify God as the creator of life, the concept is "essentially a religious proposition."
"I understand it to be a reformulation of an old theological argument for the existence of God," he said.
Haught testified as an expert witness on behalf of eight families who are trying to have a reference to intelligent design removed from the Dover Area School District's biology curriculum. The families contend that it effectively promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating constitutional guarantees on freedom of religion.
Under the policy approved by Dover's school board in October 2004, students must hear a brief statement about intelligent design before classes on evolution. It says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact," has inexplicable "gaps," and refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.
Intelligent-design supporters argue that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force, and that natural selection cannot fully explain the development of complex life from simpler forms.
No conflict between science and religion?
Haught said there is no conflict between science and religion because they represent different levels of explanation for phenomena.
"When we have a failure to distinguish science from religion, then confusion will follow," Haught said. "Science and religion cannot logically stand in a competitive relationship with each other."
During cross-examination, Richard Thompson, a lawyer representing the school district, asked Haught to draw distinctions between intelligent design and creationism.
Haught conceded that not all intelligent-design supporters literally interpret the Bible, but said the two concepts only differ "in the same sense that an orange is different than a navel orange."
The plaintiffs are represented by a team put together by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the school district by the Thomas More Law Center, a public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says its mission is to defend the religious freedom of Christians.
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday and is expected to last as long as five weeks.