Witnesses Say 'Intelligent Design' Is Religious As Court Battle Continues

A federal court heard testimony from witnesses regarding the role religion played behind decisions to include “intelligent design” in a Pennsylvania school district’s curriculum, as the third and fourth days of the case over the controversial theory continued.

A professor of science and philosophy at Michigan State University testified on Wednesday morning that intelligent design was a “religious concept,” while witnesses later that day said religion played a large role to include it. On Thursday, a former board member said regular administration procedures were not followed in passing a new policy endorsing ID.

"Even if [proponents] don't explicitly say 'God'... and simply say a 'transcendent power,' intelligent design is a religious concept," said Robert Pennock, the Michigan state professor, testifying for the plaintiffs in a case against the Dover Area School District, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Pennock is the second scientist to take the stand for the plaintiffs.

The Dover intelligent design case is one of the most significant cases regarding creation and evolution in nearly two decades, according to some observers. Plaintiffs in the case are parents who are against the decision by their local school board to include a statement before a ninth grade biology class naming intelligent design as a scientific alternative to the evolution theory.

Opponents say the theory of intelligent design is veiled creationism. The theory holds that some aspects of the universe and living organisms are so complex that it points towards an intelligent agent that created them. The theory stops short of identifying the intelligent agent.

In Wednesday morning's session, under questioning by a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Pennock said that intelligent design was creationism under a new name. He said the theory was part of a strategy to replace science with religion, according to the York Dispatch.

The professor described that within Christianity, there are "factions" who disagree on the age of the earth and when it was created but that intelligent design was trying to become a movement that united the various creationist movements "against a common enemy" which he said was evolution and modern science, according to the York dispatch.

Lawyers then presented Pennock with a magazine article from Christianity Today that quoted prominent intelligent design proponent Phillip Johnson as saying that Christians should first let people agree that there is a creator and later debate the age of the earth.

Under cross-examination by Patrick Guillen, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center – the Christian non-profit legal group defending the Dover Area School District in the case – said that just because a proponent says something is religious, doesn’t make it so.

Proponents of intelligent design say that their scientific approach relies only on observable facts.

Gillen also had Pennock establish that a scientific theory is not religious only because it is compatible with a certain religion, according to the York Dispatch.

In Wednesday afternoon’s session, plaintiffs’ lawyers questioned witnesses to bolster previous witnesses’ testimony that some Dover board members had religious intent in passing the intelligent design endorsement policy.

Christy Rehm of Dover said that board member William Buckingham made comments such as one where he said that the nation was “founded on Christianity,” another that college students were “brainwashed” and that “liberals in black robes are taking away freedom in schools,” according to the Inquirer.

Another parent that testified on Wednesday afternoon was Beth Eveland, who said was "utterly shocked" when board member Buckingham made a reference to "2000 years ago," when "someone died on a cross,” according to the York Dispatch.

Reporters for the York Dispatch attributed the words, "two thousand years ago somebody died on the cross, can't somebody stand up for him," to comments Buckingham made during a school board meeting. Since then, there has been a controversy, with the board member denying he said it. The journalists will be called as witnesses before the court.

On Thursday, Carol Brown a former school board member who opposed the inclusion of intelligent design, said she resigned in protest after the new policy was instituted. She also said that the school board had not followed school procedures in accepting the policy by not creating a curriculum advisory committee that includes the members of the public.