Intelligent design - American EducationA theory that an as-yetunidentified guiding force directed the development of all living organisms, including humans. Developed as an alternative to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the theory of intelligent design claims that living organisms are too complex to have evolved from common ancestors through natural selection and random mutation. Underlying the argument for intelligent design is the concept of “irreducible complexity,” which holds that interdependent parts of most organisms make it impossible for them to have existed in any other earlier, more primitive form. Developed as an alternative to creation science, or “creationism,” the theory of intelligent design carefully avoids all references to religious beliefs, which, by injunction of the U.S. Supreme Court, the public schools are prohibited from teaching or disseminating. In December 2005, however, a Federal District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ruled that intelligent design was as much a religious viewpoint as creationism and that public schools injecting it into the science curriculum were in violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.
The origins of intelligent design stretch back to 1925, when John T. Scopes, a science teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was prosecuted for violating a state law by teaching the theory of evolution instead of creationism. Although the SCOPES MONKEY TRIAL provoked worldwide ridicule of fundamentalist Christians, states dominated by fundamentalist sects retained laws banning the teaching of evolution until 1987, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that a Louisiana law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools except in conjunction with creationism amounted to an endorsement of a religious belief and, therefore, violated the constitutional separation of church and state. In 1993, the Foundation for Thought and Ethics, in Richardson, Texas, published the first textbook on intelligent design as a thinly disguised effort to reintroduce creationism into the classroom—although it avoided all biblical terms, including God, and all references to a higher authority. Of Pandas and People, by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon, states that there is “no positive fossil evidence for evolutionary descent. . . . Many scientists conclude that there never was a progression from one cluster to another—that each really did originate independently. This idea accords with the theory of intelligent design. Design theories suggest that various forms of life began with their distinctive features already intact; fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers and wings, mammals with fur and mammary glands. . . . Might not gaps exist . . . not because large numbers of transitional forms failed to fossilize, but because they never existed?” Adopted in public school classrooms throughout formerly “creationist” states, the text offers no scientific studies to support its contentions, and 11 parents in the Dover school district of southwestern Pennsylvania filed suit to halt the teaching of intelligent design in a ninth grade biology class. They won their case on December 20, 2005, when Federal District Court Judge John E. Jones III ruled on the case—KITZMULLER V. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT—and declared that intelligent design was as “grounded in religion” as creation science and was nothing more than “creationism relabeled.”
For years, the federal courts have banned the teaching of religion-based views such as creationism in public school science classes, although religious beliefs may be discussed in “elective” social studies classes if equal time is provided to discuss all conflicting views. “Equal time,” however, is not a consideration in science classes. The courts have consistently ruled that if it is not science, it cannot be mentioned, let alone discussed, in science classes.