School board in court over attempt to sideline Darwin's theory

In what is being described as the most important legal battle involving creation and evolution in the last 18 years, a Pennsylvania court will hear opening arguments today on a school board's attempt to include an alternative to Darwin's theory in the curriculum.

Last October, the small, rural school district of Dover became the first public school district in the US to include intelligent design in its biology curriculum.

A four-paragraph statement read to students tells them that evolutionary theory "is not a fact" and "intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view."

The school district ordered science teachers to point out in a brief statement before biology classes begin that unexplained gaps exist in evolution theory. The statement then refers students to the pro-intelligent design textbook Of Pandas and People, which is available in high-school libraries.

Intelligent design holds that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by an unspecified divine being and the elected school board members who support the change say pupils should learn about alternative theories to evolution

After the school board embraced intelligent design, 11 parents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, filed suit against the district, arguing the district was motivated by religion and was primarily trying to get God into science classes.

Almost 150 years after Charles Darwin caused outrage by publishing On the Origin of Species, the outcry - in America at least - has not gone away. His theory of evolution met with ferocious criticism and debate in courtrooms and classrooms. The First Amendment of the US constitution requires that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

"Depending on how the judge rules, intelligent design could be dealt a lethal blow or it could pave the way for it to be taught in high-school biology classes throughout the country," said Nick Matzke, a spokesman for the US National Center for Science Education.

Not since Edwards vs Aguillard in 1987, in which the US Supreme Courtstruck down the teaching of "creation science", has there been such a challenge to the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, The Independent reported.