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Banned in biology class: intelligent design

Teaching the theory in public schools violates Constitution, judge rules.

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"Intelligent design" is just another name for creationism - and therefore teaching it in public schools violates the constitutional principle of church-state separation.

That is the bottom line from the decision in perhaps the biggest courtroom clash on the theory of evolution since the 1925 Scopes trial. On Tuesday a federal judge ruled that Pennsylvania's Dover Area School District broke the law when it became one of the first school districts in the United States to include intelligent design in its science curriculum.

The ruling is a blow to certain Christian conservatives, who have been pushing intelligent-design initiatives in upwards of 30 states. It comes as vindication for scientists who have seen this push as an attack on the method of scientific inquiry.

"What's ... important about this case is that it validates the separation of church and state," says Lawrence Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "Even more important, it's a question of teaching good science."

Intelligent design holds that nature is so complex that random natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 theory of evolution, is an inadequate explanation for its evolution. Instead, the natural world must be the work of an unnamed creator.

Opponents of this view argue that intelligent design is but a gloss on creationism, a belief that the world was created by God as described in the book of Genesis. The US Supreme Court has ruled that creationism cannot be taught in public schools.

Beginning in the fall of 2004, Dover area ninth-grade students, per order of their school board, were read a four-paragraph statement that evolution is a theory, not a fact, and that this theory contains "gaps." The statement directed students interested in exploring this idea to the book "Of Pandas and People," a lengthy explanation of the intelligent-design view.

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