Intelligent Design, Creationism Seen as 'Totally Separate' Says Superintendent

A superintendent who worked together with the local school board to add mention of intelligent design theory to the science curriculum in 2004 said that he did not view design and creationism as being related, in testimony he gave last week in federal court.

The case of “Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District,” which began Sept. 26, revolves around a curriculum change in a Pennsylvania school district that requires biology teachers to read a statement before a ninth grade biology class which states that evolution theory is "not a fact" and contains inexplicable "gaps." In addition, intelligent design is mentioned as one alternative theory of how life came to be, while students are directed to a textbook on the topic.

"I did not see intelligent design as creationism. I saw them totally separate," said Superintendent Richard Nilsen during testimony last Friday according to the Associated Press. "Creationism references Genesis. ... Intelligent design does not reference a biblical context at all."

The theory of intelligent design holds that some aspects of nature are so complex that they point to the work of an unidentified intelligent designer. Opponents say that the theory is creationism disguised as science.

Nilsen was the second defense witness following expert testimony from Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor and-well known proponent of intelligent design who holds that design is a scientific theory based on observable facts and evidence.

During testimony last Thursday, Nilsen said that he came to the conclusion that it was legal to use the term "intelligent design" in the classroom and also endorse a design text book after consulting with the school district solicitor.

He approved despite concerns by some teachers that they would be held liable for mentioning design and the book. Nilsen believed that if anyone would be held liable, it would not be them because the statement was a school board directive.

Early on in the case – which is slated to end by early November – scientists, professors, teachers, and administrators from on the parent's side were the first to testify, alleging that not only was intelligent design theory religious, but that the board members involved in making the decision were also motivated by religion.

Those who testified said that board members had discussed introducing creationism into the curriculum. The two most mentioned board members were Alan Bonsell, who witnesses say expressed a wish to see evolution and creationism being taught equally at school retreats in 2002 and 2003, and board member William Buckingham, who allegedly referred to the crucifixion of Jesus during one board meeting regarding curriculum changes.

Nilsen testified that he could not remember Bonsell discussing creationism because he was more preoccupied with other matters but did acknowledge that he had taken notes which put the word "creationism" next to "topics of interest" for Bonsell.

In addition, the superintendent said that he had received two DVDs about intelligent design from Buckingham but that he had given them to his assistant superintendent who was in charge of the school curriculum.