The largest US science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urged a Pennsylvania federal court Friday to prohibit an anti-evolution doctrine known as "intelligent design" in biology classrooms.
The organization and the US National Center for Science Education issued a statement, supporting students' parents to sue the Dover school district, Pennsylvania, against its decision to include " intelligent design," which says life has a God-like creator, in the curriculum of ninth-grade biology classes.
The school district requires teachers to read a disclaimer prior to a unit on evolution. The disclaimer says that "intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view." It also notes that a reference book on intelligent design is available to students.
The parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said this policy violates the constitutional separation of church and state, which forbids teaching religion in public schools.
They also argued that intelligent design is unscientific and has no place in a science curriculum.
"The Dover disclaimer brings religion straight into the science classroom," said Alan Leshner, chief executive officer for the AAAS.
It misrepresents the state of knowledge about evolution, he said, and implies that a religious belief has a science base. And by referring students to a non-science text, the disclaimer "surely will confuse them about what is and is not science."
"Intelligent design" holds that nature is so complex it must have been the work of an God-like creator rather than the result of natural selection, as argued by Charles Darwin in his 1859 Theory of Evolution.
The Dover school district said there are "gaps" in evolution, which it emphasizes is a theory rather than established fact, and that students have a right to consider other views on the origins of life.
It also argued that it does not teach intelligent design directly but simply makes students aware of its existence as an alternative to evolution. It denied intelligent design is "religion in disguise", saying it is a scientific theory.
Under the influence of conservative religious groups, educational boards of several states have allowed, or will allow
the "intelligent design" doctrine to be taught in basic schools as a rival to the evolution theory.
The Pennsylvanian lawsuit, which is set to begin in a federal court on Sept. 26, will become a crucial sign in a new battle against the "intelligent design" movement, according to Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education.
"If the parents win the upcoming case, it will definitely throw sand in the gears of the 'intelligent design' movement," Scott said.