That a rural California school district’s effort to craft a non-science course on origins, titled “Philosophy of Design,” might be opposed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State comes as no surprise, but now an attorney for the Discovery Institute, the nation’s leading think tank on intelligent design, is calling on school officials to scrap the course, saying its foundation in young-earth creationism is not shared by intelligent design theorists and will result in the class not passing constitutional muster.
Casey Luskin, attorney for the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, appeared before the El Tejon Unified School District Board yesterday prior to their closed deliberations on the planned “Philosophy of Design” class.
A suit has been filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State on behalf of 11 parents who are seeking a temporary injunction to halt the four-week course in its second week. Fifteen students had enrolled.
The class was approved on a 3-2 vote in a Jan. 1 session during which board members had to vote up or down on the school’s entire winter curriculum. The five-member board was divided when it was learned three speakers had been scheduled in support of intelligent design but none in favor of evolution. Of the two pro-evolution speakers invited, one declined in disagreement over the class topic and the other, Nobel laureate Francis Crick – co-discoverer of the structure of DNA – had died more than a year earlier.
Frazier Mountain High, where the course is being offered, is located in Lebec, a town of 1,285 in the mountains between the Central Valley and Los Angeles.
A description of the proposed course, sent to parents in December, said students would examine “evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and Biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin’s philosophy is not rock solid.”
Although El Tejon Superintendent John Wright insists the class does not presume to teach science and is designed to let students debate the controversy surrounding different views of origins, Americans United, in its suit, asserts “the course was designed to advance religious theories on the origins of life, including creationism and its offshoot, ‘intelligent design.'”
Luskin, speaking for the Discovery Institute, told the district Americans United was right – up to a point:
“From what I can tell, this course was originally formulated as if it would promote young earth or Biblical creationism as scientific fact,” Luskin said. “Although I understand that the course has since been reformulated to remove the creationist material, a course description was sent out to students around Dec. 1 which described this course as promoting young earth or Biblical creationism as scientific fact. This is very concerning because courts have made it clear – specifically the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard – that young earth creationism is unconstitutional to teach as fact in public schools.
“Intelligent design is very different from young earth creationism. We at the Discovery Institute believe that intelligent design is constitutional to teach as a science. I understand that Americans United probably disagrees with that. But the fact is that this course originally mixed up intelligent design with the young earth creationist viewpoint. I want you to know that we support your efforts to present different views about biological origins in this philosophy course. We also applaud your efforts to remove the legally problematic creationist materials from the course. But the fact of the matter is that even if this course has been changed and improved, its past history as originally having been formulated to promote Biblical creationism as scientific fact makes this case legally problematic. Unless you get a very sympathetic judge, this course will be struck down as unconstitutional because of its problematic history.”
Luskin’s advice to the school board was to cancel the class for one year, reconstruct it as a philosophy course that all sides could agree is acceptable and offer it next year.
“There is a legal train coming at you and we can see it coming down the tracks,” said the attorney. “If you do not cancel this course, and if you let this lawsuit go forward, you are going to lose and there will be a dangerous legal precedent set which could threaten the teaching of intelligent design on the national level. Such a decision would also threaten the scientific research of many scientists who support intelligent design.”
Intelligent design scientists argue that certain biological structures exhibit evidence of design and cannot be explained by any Darwinian pathway articulated thus far. While design implies intelligence directing the process, as opposed to Darwin’s dependence on time and chance, the theory’s proponents say it is impossible to use their ideas to identify the intelligence from the evidence.
“Intelligent design is different from creationism because intelligent design is based upon empirical data, rather than religious scripture,” Luskin wrote the board in a letter earlier this week, “and also because intelligent design is not a theory about the age of the earth. Moreover, unlike creationism, intelligent design does not try to inject itself into religious discussions about the identity of the intelligence responsible for life. Creationism, in contrast, always postulates a supernatural or divine creator.”