Pa. 'Intelligent Design' Trial Probes Topic of Faith

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An expert witness who has sharply criticized the teaching of the "intelligent design" (search) theory of life's origins testified Tuesday that faith and reason are compatible.

Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller, the first witness called Monday by lawyers suing the Dover Area School District for exposing its students to the controversial theory, sprinkled his testimony with references to DNA, red blood cells and viruses, and he occasionally referred to complex charts on a projection screen.

Even U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III was a little overwhelmed.

"I guess I should say, 'Class dismissed,'" Jones mused before recessing for lunch.

Dover is believed to be the nation's first school system to mandate students be exposed to the intelligent design concept. Its policy requires school administrators to read a brief statement before classes on evolution that says Charles Darwin's theory is "not a fact" and has inexplicable "gaps." It refers students to an intelligent-design textbook for more information.

Intelligent design holds that Darwin's theory of natural selection (search) cannot fully explain the origin of life or the emergence of highly complex life forms. It implies that life on Earth was the product of an unidentified intelligent force.

Eight families sued, saying that the district policy in effect promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state (search).

Miller, who testified on Monday that intelligent design was not accepted by scientists, was asked by a school attorney whether faith and reason are compatible.

"I believe not only that they are compatible but that they are complimentary," said Miller, who earlier told the court he was a practicing Roman Catholic.

Miller also backed off a statement in a 1995 biology textbook he co-wrote that said evolution (search) was "random and undirected." Miller said he missed that reference by a co-author and that he did not believe evolution was random and undirected.

Eight families sued, saying the policy in effect promotes the Bible's view of creation, violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

On Monday, Miller said the policy undermines scientific education by wrongly raising doubts about evolutionary theory.

"It's the first movement to try to drive a wedge between students and the scientific process," he said.

But the rural school district of about 3,500 students argues it is not endorsing any religious view and is merely giving ninth-grade biology classes a glimpse of differences in evolutionary theory.

"This case is about free inquiry in education, not about a religious agenda," Patrick Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., said in his opening statement. The center, which lobbies for what it sees as the religious freedom of Christians, is defending the school district.

The non-jury trial is expected to take five weeks.

The Dover lawsuit is the latest chapter in a history of evolution litigation dating to the Scopes Monkey Trial in Tennessee nearly 80 years ago. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states may not require public schools to balance evolution lessons by teaching creationism.