HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA--Evolutionary biology took the stand
Monday as what some have called the Scopes trial of the 21st
century finally got under way here in federal District Court.
The case--Kitzmiller et al. vs. Dover Area School
District--has generated national attention because it's
the first attempt to add intelligent design (ID) to a public
school curriculum since the U.S. Supreme Court shot down creationism
| Darwin dispute. Biologist Kenneth Miller disputed
many of the claims made in ID's flagship textbook Of
Pandas and People.
CREDIT: Dan Reynolds
The case was brought by 11 parents of the 3700-student school
district in eastern Pennsylvania, who objected to the school
board's decision last fall to inform students that evolutionary
theory has "gaps/problems," and encourage them to look into
ID as a promising alternative (Science,
16 September, p. 1796). Taking the stand yesterday was the
plaintiffs' star witness, biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown
University in Providence, Rhode Island. Miller offered the
packed courtroom a detailed introductory lesson on what science
is. And it's not ID, he said.
Under questioning from plaintiffs' lawyer, Witold Walczak of
the American Civil Liberties Union, Miller systematically challenged
a number of key points made by ID proponents. Saying ID's flagship
textbook Of Pandas and People is filled with erroneous
science, Miller pointed out that it espouses the notion that
new organisms appeared suddenly "with their distinctive features
already intact." This, he said, is "identical to creation science.
The only difference is that in Pandas, these creative events
are spaced out over time" rather than all happening in the biblical
span of 6 days.
Miller also took apart the biochemistry in the book. For
example, Pandas says that the cascade of events leading
to blood clotting is too complex to have evolved without a
designer because all the components have to be present for
the system to function. In reality, he said, nature has already
performed the test: Whales and dolphins don't have the Factor
XII shared by other mammals, and yet their blood will still
Even the flagellum got its moment in the spotlight. Miller
tore into a favorite example used by biochemist and ID proponent
Michael Behe of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania,
who claims that the organelle cannot be explained by evolutionary
principles because it is "irreducibly complex." Behe argues
natural selection can only operate on systems that already
exist. But Miller said that if you remove 30 parts from the
flagellum, you are left with 10 parts at its base that closely
resemble a molecular syringe used by some bacteria to infect
The defense has yet to call its two scientific witnesses--Behe
and Scott Minnich, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho.
But from what the lawyers have said so far, they will lean
heavily on what they perceive as weaknesses and uncertainties
in evolutionary theory. They will also seek to convince District
Court Judge John E. Jones III that ID has nothing to do with
God or religion. In his opening statement, defense lawyer
Pat Gillen of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan,
portrayed the school board's new policy as a "modest change
in the biology curriculum for the purpose of enhancing science
education [and] critical thinking."