- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

DOVER, Pa. — When talk at the local high school turns to evolution, biology teachers must make time for Charles Darwin — and his detractors.

This rural south-central Pennsylvania community is thought to be the first in the nation to mandate the teaching of “intelligent design,” a theory that says the universe is so complex that it must have been created by an unspecified higher power.

Critics call the change in the ninth-grade biology curriculum a veiled attempt to require public school students to learn creationism, a Bible-based view that credits the origin of the world to God. The school will continue to teach evolution, the theory that Earth is billions of years old and that life forms developed over millions of years.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is reviewing the Dover Area School District case. Meanwhile, its Georgia counterpart is fighting a suburban Atlanta district’s decision to include a warning sticker in biology textbooks that says evolution is “a theory, not a fact.”

“What Dover has done goes much further than what’s happened in Georgia,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pittsburgh ACLU. “As far as we can tell, Dover is the first school district that has actually mandated intelligent design.”

About 2,800 students are enrolled in the district, which encompasses the rural community of Dover borough, and a patchwork of farmland and newer suburban developments in several surrounding townships.

The revision was spearheaded by school board member William Buckingham, who leads the board’s curriculum committee.

“I think it’s a downright fraud to perpetrate on the students of this district, to portray one theory over and over,” Mr. Buckingham said. “What we wanted was a balanced presentation.”

Mr. Buckingham wanted the board to adopt an intelligence-design textbook, “Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins,” as a supplement to the traditional biology book, but no vote was taken. A few weeks before the new science curriculum was approved, 50 copies were donated to the high school anonymously.

Although Mr. Buckingham describes himself as a born-again Christian and believes in creationism, he said, “This is not an attempt to impose my views on anyone else.”

Two of the dissenting board members, Carol Brown and her husband, Jeff, were so upset that they resigned after the board voted 6-3 on Oct. 18 to mandate the teaching approach.

“We have a vocal group within the community who feel very strongly in an evangelical Christian way that there is no separation of church and state,” Mrs. Brown said. “Our responsibility to is to represent the viewpoints of all members of the community.”

Critics of intelligent design contend that it is creationism repackaged in more secular-sounding language.

“Creationism in a cheap tuxedo,” said Nicholas Matzke, project information specialist for the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif., which advocates for the teaching of evolution.

Even the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, which supports scientists studying intelligent design, opposes mandating it in schools because it is a relatively new concept, said John West, associate director of the institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

“We’re completely against anyone who says you should downgrade or limit the teaching of evolution,” Mr. West said.

Dover biology teacher Jennifer Miller said the curriculum changes have left her uncertain about how to approach her evolution lesson.

“If you put the words ‘intelligent design’ into my curriculum, then I have to teach it,” said Miss Miller, a 12-year veteran. “I’m not sure what that means as to how in-depth we have to go. … I’m looking for more direction from the school board.”

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