APS News

February 2006 (Volume 15, Number 2)

Scientists, Teachers, Clergy Hail Court Ruling

Scientists and nonscientists alike applauded a US district court ruling in December that a school board violated the Constitution by requiring high school science students to learn about "intelligent design," the idea that living species formed through the intervention of a supernatural designer. The decision shows that the US will maintain a strong science curriculum, which will help the US stay competitive in science and technology, experts say. According to others, the decision underlines that intelligent design is a disguised form of religious creationism, one that is promoted by organized public-relations strategies instead of research in scientific journals.

The US District Court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania ruled that the York County (PA) school board violated the Constitution's principle to separate government and religion by requiring a four-paragraph statement to be read to high-school science students. The statement attacked evolution, the cornerstone of modern biology, and promoted intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

Judge Jones wrote in his decision, "We hold that the ID Policy is unconstitutional pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Art. I, Section 3 of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

"History shows that attempts to push creationism in the public schools don't go away, they just adapt to the legal circumstances," said Eugenie Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education, which monitors intelligent design activity in the US "It is already clear that the new slogan for the ID movement is going to be ‘Teach the Controversy!’–even though there is no scientific controversy over the validity of evolution in biology."

"Calls to 'teach both sides' of a controversy that does not exist would lead to the inclusion of non-scientific and anti-scientific doctrines in the classroom, and would dramatically weaken American science education," said Ken Miller, a Brown University biology professor who is the author of widely-used high school biology textbooks.

The decision will improve K-12 science education and thereby help the US stay competitive in science and technology, said Marshall Berman, a retired government scientist who has served as vice president for the New Mexico State Board of Education. "The US is falling rapidly and drastically behind other countries in science and math education," Berman says. Without a much stronger focus on science, "US competitiveness is almost certainly destined to be second-class," he says. The decision, says Berman, makes very good sense economically, scientifically and constitutionally. It sends the message that the US is focused on better science education.

Berman's back page article on the subject in the October 2005 APS News helped keep ID out of classrooms in the Minnetonka school district in Minnesota. Carol Eastlund, a school board member, quoted from Berman's article in her remarks to the Minnetonka Board of Education in December.

Despite arguments to the contrary, evolution and religion can co-exist harmoniously, some clergy members say.

"There is no conflict between evolution and belief in God, but evolution belongs in the science classroom and theology, biblical or not, belongs in philosophy or religious discussions," said Charles W. Holsinger, an ordained Presbyterian minister who lives in Seven Valleys, Pennsylvania, in southern York County. "Belief in God should not stifle curiosity and research by assuming God is the answer to anything. The miracle and wonder of the natural world, including evolution, led me to believe in a God.”

—Courtesy of Inside Science News Service

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff

February 2006 (Volume 15, Number 2)

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Articles in this Issue
DOE Picks University of California to Head Los Alamos Management Team
De Gennes, Ben Lakhdar and Wagner to Deliver Endowed Lectures at March and April Meetings
Optical Illusion
Taiwan Symposium Caps World Year of Physics Talent Search program
Scientists, Teachers, Clergy Hail Court Ruling
Undergraduate Awards Promote Student Participation at DNP Meeting
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History:
Inside the Beltway: Don't Give Me No Bad News!
Industrial Profile