Court Battle Over Intelligent Design Continues with Disputed 'Expert Witness' Testimony

Last week's testimony in the federal court case to determine the constitutionality of intelligent design in the classroom focused on the validity of a philosophy professor at the University of Louisiana and her ability to testify as an expert witness.

Despite vigorous insistence by the defense that University of Louisiana professor Barbara Forrest was not an expert in science, Judge John E. Jones III said she could be entered as an expert witness in Pennsylvania’s Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case based on the studies she had done on the ID movement.

Since Sept. 26, the federal judge has heard arguments over whether the Dover Area School District can include "intelligent design" in its biology curriculum. The district has been accused by local parents (the plaintiffs) of introducing religion into the curriculum when it decided to include a brief statement on intelligent design at the beginning of a ninth grade science class.

During her testimony last week, Forrest spent a significant amount of her focus on the "wedge" strategy, a name used by intelligent design proponents to introduce the theory into the scientific and cultural debate currently dominated by evolution theory.

In one of her recent books, Forrest had argued that the Intelligent Design movement was succeeding through a public relations strategy rather than scientific contribution, eventually unifying the church and state.

In the book co-written with Paul Gross, a University Professor of Life Sciences at the University of Virginia, Forrest referred to intelligent design as a "Trojan horse" that would insert religion into science.

"I hope that the media will critically analyze Forrest's testimony and get our response to her allegations," said John West, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University and a Senior Fellow at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. "I would warn them to take what she says not with just a grain of salt, but with a shaker-full."

"The ACLU's entire case is built on misrepresenting what intelligent design is, and mischaracterizing it as creationism so we're not surprised they called Forrest as a witness," added West, in statement released on Oct. 5 by the Discovery Institute.

According to West, creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Instead, intelligent design theory attempts to empirically detect whether the apparent design in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organizing intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws.

"The effort to detect design in nature is being adopted by a growing number of biologists, biochemists, physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science at colleges and universities around the world," said West. "Scientists engaged in design research include biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University and microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, both of whom will testify for the defense, and astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University."

In March, the Discovery Institute – a conservative Christian educational foundation – issued a statement countering assertions by intelligent design opponents that the goals of ID proponents were to supplant science with religion and turn the nation into a theocracy.

"Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture does not support theocracy. We should not have to say this, but apparently we do," the Institute stated. "Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture rejects all attempts to impose orthodoxies on the practice of science as contrary to the spirit of the scientific enterprise."

One of the Discovery Institute's goals in supporting intelligent design is combating what it calls the "unscientific philosophy of materialism," by challenging neo-Darwinism and "cosmologies" that see the universe as self-existent and self-organizing.

"It is in the context of our concern about the world-view implications of certain scientific theories that our wedge strategy must be understood. Far from attacking science (as has been claimed), we are instead challenging scientific materialism – the simplistic philosophy or world-view that claims that all of reality can be reduced to, or derived from, matter and energy alone. We believe that this is a defense of sound science."

The case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District is expected to run for another three weeks.

[Editor's Note: Francis Helguero contributed reporting from Washington, D.C, for this article.]