Georgetown may be situated several miles from the Supreme Court, but this fall, Georgetown professor John Haught found himself at the center of a Pennsylvania trial that challenged a local school board’s decision to instruct students about the theory of intelligent design.

The December ruling in the case, Tammy Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al., was seen as an important blow to proponents of the theory, which holds that life is so complex as to require the influence of a guiding higher intelligence.

Eleven parents of students in the Dover, district sued the school board after it mandated that teachers read a statement offering intelligent design as an alternative to evolution before evolution could be taught in science classes

On Dec. 20 Judge John E. Jones III found that the Dover Area School Board’s inclusion of this statement violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, barring intelligent design from being taught in public school science classrooms.

Haught, a theology professor, testified Sept. 30 for the plaintiffs.

“The main issue was whether the [intelligence design movement] is science and the legal issue behind the whole thing was whether it teaches a religious or theological point of view in public school classroom,” Haught said.

“The side I was on maintained that ID is art, simply a theological perspective that was masquerading as legitimate science.”

In a document filed during the trial, the defense claimed that the Dover school board had no official policy on intelligent design.

“The DASB Biology Curriculum Policy does not advance religion, but merely provides the students of Dover High School with an honest science education for the valid and clearly secular purpose of enhancing the science curriculum by informing students about the existing scientific controversy surrounding Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, including the fact that there alternative scientific theories being advanced by scientists,” defense attorneys argued.

Intelligent design affirms the existence of God through the idea that wherever there is a complex design in nature, there must be an intelligent designer, Haught said.

“The minor premise is that nature exhibits incredible instances of complex design, such as the eye, the brain or even a snowflake,” he explained. “Therefore the conclusion is that nature has to be the outcome of ID or an intelligent designer.”

T. Jeremy Gunn, American Civil Liberties Union director for the program on freedom of religion and belief, represented the parents of the Dover students. He said that although school boards have previously have tried to introduce religious material to public schools, this was the first court case involving the use of intelligent design in public schools.

“The point [in this case] would be that a government or school board cannot be endorsing a religious theory or allowing it to be taught as an option,” Gunn said.

He said that the ID theory belongs in the arena of religion, as it is a part of the history of “natural theology” that affirms the existence of God on the basis of experiences in the natural world.

Haught called intelligent design objectionable not only on its merits as a scientific or theological theory, but also in the context of civil liberties, as it “proposes a specific understanding in pluralistic cultural context” promoting the traditional Western understanding of God.

Although Haught said he is satisfied with the outcome of the case, he said that he personally believes in an intelligence to the universe’s design.

“Just because I’m opposed to teaching ID in the classroom, it doesn’t mean that I deny that there’s a deep wisdom,” he said. “I believe there is a deep wisdom that underlies the universe, including the evolutionary process, which is something some evolutionists would deny.”

Gunn added that with eight of the nine members of the school board who approved the policy being voted out of office in recent elections, it is significant that both “public opinion and a judge said it was a terrible mistake to have this religious theory taught as if it were science”.

Gunn said that Judge Jones found that the “school board simply had no basis for what it was doing” and claimed that the judge found irony in the idea that certain members of the board were “lying for religion.”

The trial was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4.

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